UK sheep producers remain unfailingly positive in the midst of the continuing political uncertainty surrounding the country’s exit from the EU.
That is according to findings from the annual Volac Lamlac lamb rearing intentions survey.
More than 300 farmers completed the survey during November 2019 with over half (57 per cent) of the respondents demonstrating significant confidence in the sheep industry by claiming to have put more ewes to the tup last autumn (compared with 2018.)
Nearly two thirds (66 per cent) of shepherds still believe it will be extremely important to rear the maximum number of lambs possible in 2020.
And when it comes to dealing with any surplus lambs, 47 per cent say they aim to rear more lambs away from the ewe on milk replacer.
Samantha Sampson, from Volac, says: “There is no doubt that many sheep producers remain upbeat about the future for the industry and this mindset definitely extends to planning to make sure every lamb counts.
The survey findings also highlight that three-quarters of farms now have a specific system in place to rear their surplus lambs.
For one in three producers this still means rearing lambs by hand on a bottle, but as many as a fifth of farms are now experiencing the benefits of using a thermostatically controlled milk bucket or computerised milk feeding machine.
Those rearing surplus lambs on these innovative practical devices say that ‘the saving on labour around lambing time’ and ‘releasing time to do other things’ are the most popular motivators for investing in a bucket or machine.
When it comes to the type of milk replacer being fed to these surplus lambs, 72 per cent said they opted for a proven product that has delivered for them in previous seasons.
Ms Sampson says: “It is now common practice to remove a third lamb to be reared artificially on ewe milk replacer, with 85 per cent of farms claiming to do this. What is interesting though is the lamb selection choice criteria that farmers use.
“Volac advises that it is best to leave a balanced pair on the mother and practically this is what most farms seem to be doing.
"Shepherds talk about removing ‘the strongest’ lamb (22 per cent), ‘the weakest’ lamb (18 per cent), ‘the smallest’ lamb (17 per cent) or ‘the largest triplet’ (7 per cent).
"We tend to recommend simply removing the odd one out and 28 per cent of respondents said they did this.
"However, just under 5 per cent say they would choose ‘a male lamb’ and 3 per cent would select ‘a female lamb’.”
Interestingly, almost three quarters (74 per cent) of farms would also remove a lamb from a twin-bearing ewe lamb to take the pressure off and allow her to keep milking and growing.