With recent industry focus on finishing lambs off grass, Bryan and Liz Griffiths, Devon, tell Laura Bowyer why they favour concentrates.
Feeding concentrates is key to Bryan and Liz Griffiths’ lamb production at Southcott Farm, Burrington, Devon.
Due to the wet, clay-based soil which is local to the region, all ewes are housed for up to three months from Christmas to lambing and are fed a 19 per cent protein concentrate from six weeks pre-lambing.
They are fed according to body condition score and scanning result, but consume in the region of 0.5kg per head per day.
Mr and Mrs Griffiths lamb in two batches. Early lamb production comes from their home-bred Suffolk cross Mule ewes which started lambing on February 16, scanning at 200 per cent this year.
Scanning slightly higher at 208 per cent, the North Country Mules lamb later in the season, starting on March 25. Replacement ewe lambs for both breeds are put to the ram at the same time as their older flockmates.
Early Suffolk lambs are given access to ad-lib concentrates from birth and are sold by the end of July, straight from the ewe.
Lambs are fed a 16 per cent protein concentrate from birth and ram lambs are kept entire.
Mr Griffiths says: “Suffolks will naturally lamb earlier than Mules. They have minimal depreciation, retaining a high cull value, and we do not like keeping old ewes.
“They are reasonable mothers, but not as good as Mules. Lambs from Suffolks are three-quarters terminal sire, so grow quickly.”
Abermax rams have been used for about six years at Southcott Farm and also assist fast finishing. One ram is used per 50 ewes and three Suffolks are used for breeding replacement ewes. Teaser rams are also used on ewe lambs.
He says: “We do not graze off-farm nor do we reseed or grow stubble turnips. We used to grow turnips, but with so many consecutive years of wet winters, it became too hard to find a dryer window to get ewes on them to graze, which is why we now house before lambing.
“We have tried to introduce clover through over-seeding and after attending an open day, we now feed clover seed in the hope it will spread throughout the farm and rejuvenate pastures.
“The farm I went to see was feeding seed to cattle and had white clover growing across their ground, but I wonder if sheep digest the seed differently to cattle, as it has not been as effective here.”
Round bale silage is made on-farm and it is estimated each ewe will eat half a bale per year, with cattle estimated to consume five bales per animal annually.
The Griffiths are cost conscious and calculate costs of production and participate in the AHDB Stocktake and Farm Business Survey.
Mr Griffiths says: “Benchmarking is a great tool to examine your business performance. However, there are so many variables between farms, it makes it very difficult to make comparisons, unless it is carried out on a like-for-like basis.
“Our mentality here is ‘stuff them and sell them’, which greatly aids cashflow. Feeding early lambs on our ad-lib system costs about £10/head over their lifetime, whereas our later lambs cost £4/head on restricted access feeding.”
Mule lambs are run as stores until August and are then finished up to December. They have restricted access to cake until finished, which Mr and Mrs Griffiths estimate costs £4/head. They want all lambs to be sold by Christmas.
Aiming for a carcase of 19.5kg at an R3L or better, all lambs go deadweight. The goal is to sell 1.8 lambs per ewe tupped and this is usually achieved.
Last year, they hit 1.76, but have achieved 1.83 in the past. They are happy if they sell an average of 0.9 lambs per ewe lamb.
Southcott Farm has been involved in a huge number of trials over the years, working closely with their vet practice, and have been involved with Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) since its establishment.
The accurate records kept by Mrs Griffiths means institutions enjoy working with the couple and often approach them to participate in trial work. She says they keep records of lamb sales and weights from the past 15-20 years.
Mrs Griffiths says: “We have done a huge amount of work on minimising foot troubles over recent years and have worked with Warwick and Liverpool universities on the matter.
“If we see a lame sheep, we inject it with antibiotic and never foot trim. We tend not to cull for lameness. You need to get in the mindset of seeing a lame animal and immediately treating it.
“We blanket vaccinate for footrot at housing for winter and periodically foot bath to control scald using zinc sulphur.
“Bought-in ewe lambs are given a quarantine worming drench in the market, but then are allowed to build immunity, but are given triclabendazole at housing and closantel at turnout.
“We treat ewes and lambs differently, with lambs receiving a dose as and when they need it, as a worm challenge is not what we want among finishing lambs.”
Given the wet conditions, Mr and Mrs Griffiths say they take fluke very seriously. The couple make an annual pilgrimage to Kendal to buy North Country Mule ewe lambs as replacements for their flock.
They have been doing this for four years and say it is a nice chance to get away from the farm, particularly as sales coincide with their wedding anniversary.
Yearling ewes are separated from the main flock to avoid any bullying. Purchased ewe lambs are also kept away from the rest of the flock for one year, mainly due to the risk of borders disease, also known as ‘hairy shakers’.
This disease causes ewes to have small, poor conditioned, shaking, hairy lambs in breeds which would otherwise have a smooth coat. If ewe lambs give birth normally at first lambing, it is unlikely it is infected with the disease and will be safe to breed from.
Mrs Griffiths says: “We like North Country Mules, as they are good mothers, milky and prolific.”
This prolificacy is so much so, 160 North Country Mules are expecting triplets this year and 100 lambs are expected to require rearing on milk replacer, which they believe costs about £20/head.
Two heated buckets are used to feed lambs initially, followed by cold milk from three weeks and weaning at five weeks.
As many wet triplets as possible are fostered to ewes which have had a single. They would not turn out a ewe with three lambs, as they believe it is too much demand on the udder, increasing the risk of mastitis.
After being a member of the National Sheep Association (NSA) for 20 years and chairman of the South West committee for the past two years, Mr Griffiths has recently taken on the position of chairman of the organisation’s English committee.
He says: “Through events, publications and lobbying, the NSA is able to act as the voice of the sheep farmer. In my new role, I will be lobbying with Defra, Red Tractor and other organisations to bring a sense of practicality to imposed regulations.
“I accept the food industry must have regulations, but they must be practical. I also aim to uphold our good relationship with the NFU livestock board.
“I am lucky to have Liz to hold the fort while I am away. We also have two vet students to assist with later lambing ewes and have a good relationship with the vet school at Liverpool.”