Lambing their 2,000-strong sheep flock in December and January to hit the Easter, new-season lamb market is one of the main focuses for Tony Good and his shepherd, David Barber.
Mr Barber said: “The Easter lamb market has changed a lot even in the last couple of years. Going back a few years, the difference between a lamb in October and a new season lamb in April was nearly double. Now you are lucky if you get a premium of 20 pence per kilo.”
Warborough Farm, Wantage, Oxfordshire, has been owned by Mr Good since 1971 and has been involved in stewardship schemes since the early 1990s. Mr Good says more than two-thirds of the farm was in the Higher Level Stewardship scheme.
Because of this, all lambs are finished indoors.
Mr Barber said: “The system we run works well with the environmental land. Trying to fatten lambs on these banks without any decent grasses would rear them, but not fatten them, but it is perfect for dry ewes.”
The flock comprises a mixture of Poll Dorset, Finnish Landrace and British Milk sheep, which are artificially inseminated (AI) in July to prepare for lambing in December.
Rams are then put in during August to cover any repeat services and to serve the ewe lambs.
Mr Barber carries out the AI himself, collecting semen on-farm and inseminating using a cervical AI technique. He said he averaged an 80 per cent conception rate.
Mr Barber added poorer ewes, ones which were less productive or had a history of lameness, were put to a terminal ram, usually a Suffolk or Charollais, which are selected from the top 1 per cent of the sire reference scheme for their breed.
The remaining, top performing ewes are put to home-bred rams, selected from the best ewes in the flock, which have an average lambing percentage of more than 250 per cent, to breed replacement females.
Ewes are fed concentrates at grass until about 10 days before lambing.
“We then bring them in and onto a total mixed ration containing clamp silage, brewers grains, soya and minerals, balanced according to the quality of the silage,” said Mr Barber.
At about 24 hours old, ewes and lambs are moved into group pens and reared in poly-tunnels for six to seven weeks, with creep feed available to the lambs from the first week of age.
Mr Barber said lambs are weaned at seven-weeks and would hit target weights by 10 to 11 weeks old, usually with the first batch being sold in the last week of February and the last by June. Last year they averaged £105/ head but this year it was £89/head.
“Once weaned we weigh them every week and drawing according to condition, not weight, but we try not to go below 36kg liveweight or above 45kg. This year we averaged carcase weights of 19.1 kg,” he said.
Mr Good added: “We finish 10 lambs to a tonne of concentrate. With lambs weighing 40kg at slaughter, this works out at a conversion ratio of about 2.75:1.
“Lambs should be ready for slaughter within 16 weeks. Longer than this and the conversion ratio goes to pot.”