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Breeding Ewe Lambs / Clean Livestock for Sheep


This year appears to have brought a lot of interest in breeding ewe lambs, due to hogget prices being strong. Colm Murray, B&T Drystock Advisor discusses the benefits and challenges of breeding ewe lambs. He also looks at clean livestock policy for sheep and pre-sale management.

Replacements are a major cost in mid-season lamb production systems. The cost of a replacement ewe joining the flock at approximately 18 months of age is equivalent to 25% of the value of lamb carcass output that she will produce during her lifetime. One option for reducing replacement costs is to breed your own ewe lambs. These ewe lambs would lamb at one year of age with the objective of reducing costs and increasing lifetime productivity. 52% of lowland farmers purchase their replacements.

Benefits of Breeding Ewe Lambs:

Breeding ewe lambs can have many benefits but good management is required. The number of litters in the ewes lifetime is increased, thus lifetime performance is increased. It allows for more lambs born on the farm annually. It improves the rate of genetic gain. Breeding ewe lambs reduces replacements cost and thus improves farm net margin.

Challenges:

Breeding ewe lambs can work very well but good management is essential. Lambs need to be at the correct weight joining the ram. Weight at joining the ram is important and will have a big effect on getting them pregnant, it contributes to the number of lambs they give birth too, the number of lambs weaned, and the weight they are at the following breeding season when they are hogget’s. Lambs need to be 56-65% of their mature body weight depending on breed at the time they go the ram e.g. Suffolk lambs need to be 60 kg, Belcare Cross Suffolk need to be 51 kg and a Belclare 48kg.

Nutrition during pregnancy is also very important, not only are you feeding to grow the foetus and to maintain the ewe you are also feeding so the ewe lamb will develop, grow and put on weight. Ewe lambs need to be introduced to concentrates earlier than mature ewes to keep them growing.

Another challenge faced by farmers are good facilities, which are required when breeding replacement ewe lambs. Adequate rams for breeding are necessary along with good facilities at lambing especially lambing pens. Ewe lambs will require an extra day in a lambing pen compared to a mature ewe so extra space is needed. Post lambing extra management and feed is required.

A ewe lamb with twins should get concentrates for five weeks post lambing, and lambs should have access to a creep feeder, and get 300 grams per lamb per day to take the pressure off the ewe lamb. They should be managed in a separate group from the mature flock. More inputs are required such as feed and infrastructure and it will not suit every system, however there are many benefits to breeding ewe lambs, in particular an increase in lifetime production and a reduction is costs.

The often discussed labour requirements with ewe lambs, can discourage farmers from implementing this breeding system, however, when examined the benefits of productivity and reduced costs are significant.

Clean Livestock Policy for Sheep:

As the year progresses and weather is detonating, causing poorer ground conditions, lambs can get dirty which could contaminate the fleeces. The Clean Livestock Policy for sheep was introduced in 2016, to help overcome this problem. It was introduced to improve performance in relation to cleanliness for incoming sheep to slaughter plants.

This initiative grades the sheep in three categories when entering the factory. The categories are:

Category A: Satisfactory sheep are those with a clean dry fleece, they can be slaughtered with no risk of contaminating the meat.

Category B:  Acceptable are sheep with moderate soiling of the fleece. These sheep can be slaughtered by the slaughtering plants by putting in place additional interventions, including extra defined dressing control.

Category C: Unacceptable are sheep with heavy contamination on the fleece and unfit for slaughter.

Key Recommendations:

An initial recommendation for improve cleanliness is Tail docking of lambs. Lambs should be tail docked in the first seven days of birth, using rings.

Farmers can implement a controlled program for internal parasites, such as stomach worms, Coccidia and liver fluke to help prevent lambs scouring, resulting in cleaner lambs going for slaughter.

Lambs fed on grass, should be moved frequently to clean pasture to avoid muddy conditions. Avoid excess use of nitrogen fertiliser or very lush grass during the finishing period, to reduce scouring. Feeders should be moved often, while drinking troughs and surrounding areas should be kept clean.

Lambs for finishing on root and forage crops should be crutched/dag prior to going to crop. Allow lambs to adjust to their new diet, and provide grass runback and supplement with hay, this will gradually introduce the root and forage crops. When supplementing, keep feeders moved to avoid poaching, and improve cleanliness. Ensure lambs have a dry area to lie on eg.  grass runback.

If lambs are finished indoors make sure shed is well ventilated. If using straw beds ensure adequate straw is available. If on slatted sheds ensure slats are not blocked. Ensure pens are not overstocked, and allows lambs have adequate feeding space at troughs.

Pre-Sale Management:

Dag/crouch lambs prior to transport. Have adequate and clean transport conditions. If using decks make sure faeces/urine from upper decks will not soil sheep on lower decks.

Simple planning, with daily care and management can significantly improve the hygiene and cleanliness of sheep, with minimal risk of contamination.

If you liked this article you might also like to read Prebreeding Vaccination against Toxo and Enzo in Sheep or How to check the ewe is fit for breeding.
The Teagasc Sheep Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers on Tuesdays here on Teagasc Daily. Find more on Teagasc Sheep here. For any further information or assistance contact your local Teagasc Office here: Advisory Regions.