With the Brexit deadline looming and uncertainty still surrounding the future status of valuable European export markets, more than 90 per cent of UK sheep producers say it will be very important to rear as many lambs as possible in 2019.
This is according to research carried out by Volac which examines surplus lamb rearing intentions and practices.
Of the 521 farmers participating in the online survey, 51 per cent said they saw an opportunity to rear more lambs artificially next year, and 85 per cent said they had a system in place to carry out this task.
Volac’s technical officer, Abi Erian, says: “Not surprisingly, in the main the lambs being reared artificially are those from triplet-bearing ewes, together with any orphans.
“What is particularly interesting though is the lamb selection criteria employed.
"In larger flocks [more than 250 ewes] just under 50 per cent of flocks remove the odd one out in a group of three – which is what we would recommend – whereas only 28 per cent of smaller flocks [fewer than 100 ewes] do this.”
Ms Erian adds it is best to leave a balanced pair of lambs on the mother, and a mix of criteria is being employed to make the choice.
The most favoured approach is removal of the weakest lamb (19 per cent of units).
Interestingly, across the whole sample, more than 68 per cent of farmers would also consider removing a lamb from a twin-bearing ewe lamb to take the pressure off and allow her to keep milking and growing.
When it comes to feeding colostrum, 82 per cent of producers say they always administer it to any fostered lambs within six hours of birth, with smaller flocks seeming to show slightly better attention to detail in this respect.
However, it seems that only around one in four larger flocks and one in five smaller flocks are feeding enough.
Ms Erian says: “All surplus lambs must be fed good quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth – and preferably start receiving this essential nutrition within the first two hours of life (50ml/kg liveweight per feed) and ingest a minimum of 210ml/kg liveweight in total within the first 24 hours.”
Ms Erian said the research findings suggest UK sheep producers are using a variety of criteria for weaning their surplus lambs.
“It is good to see that more than two thirds of larger and smaller flocks use a mix of age, daily food consumption, appearance and weight to make the weaning decision. However, this still leaves about a third of farmers using single measures such as simply age or appearance to promote weaning.
“The timing of weaning should not be controlled by a single factor, but a combination of factors. We advise that lambs should be weaned abruptly at a minimum of five weeks of age when they are two and half times their birthweight and importantly eating an average of 0.25kg of solid feed a day over three days.
Other findings from the survey