Increase lambs sold per ewe next year by investing now in flock fertility

Past experience of buoyant finished lamb prices will prompt wily farmers and shepherds to recall, “this won’t last forever and may not even last long.” Of course, better prices are only what lamb producers deserve.

Looking ahead, whatever price levels are for finished lambs this time next year, the number one driver of sheep profitability in all systems remains productivity, in particular lambs sold per ewe.

Clearly, increasing this aspect of performance depends on finding lasting improvements, though many easy wins from the past are already standard practice today. On some farms, however, this does not yet include providing assured daily trace element supplementation in the important run up to breeding.

On most farms, the essentials for high conception rates are selenium, cobalt and iodine, plus optional copper depending on breed and management where there is known deficiency. Although some supplements also contain zinc, this is largely unnecessary because sheep are very rarely deficient in this mineral.

By far the easiest and most reliable method of supplementation is a 180-day Tracesure (known as Allsure in Ireland) bolus, providing consistent daily release of trace elements. To reduce workload, these can be given at the same time as other tasks including worming, vaccinations and foot checks.

According to Animax vet Elizabeth Berry, pasture can be up to 50% deficient in these critical trace elements. “The best timing for supplementation is approximately six weeks before breeding begins,” she says.

Farmer-to-farmer: “Fitter ewes, higher conception rates, a more compact lambing period, and consistent lamb birth-weights” are reported by David Cromie in County Down, Northern Ireland.

Twice-yearly, his Millhaven Charollais and commercial crossbred ewes are bolused with Tracesure Sheep & Lamb (known as Allsure Sheep & Lamb in Ireland), well ahead of breeding and again pre-lambing. “In addition to increased production, we also value the peace of mind that trace element deficiencies are covered,” David says.

In the Republic of Ireland, fitter ewes, compact lambing and lots of lively lambs at birth are reported by Cathal Joyce, Tuam, Co Galway. He boluses ewes with Allsure four to six weeks before ram turnout to cover the full pregnancy. Cathal also boluses bought-in store lambs for maximum thrive on kale grown for finishing lambs.

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