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Shearing Store Lambs

As producers start to plan for the autumn and winter finishing of store lambs one of the things they will be giving consideration to will be whether to shear the lambs or not and also when should they shear them? Researchers Frank Campion and Michael Diskin have some advice.

Given that many of the store lambs will potentially be on the farm for a number of months to come yet it is certainly worth consideration as shorn lambs will be cleaner have a reduced risk of fly-strike in late August/September when grazing outdoors.  This needs to be balanced against the cost of shearing.

When considering shearing lambs that are grazing outdoors it best do it in August or early in September to get the best value out if shearing but also to give lambs a chance to adjust to losing their fleece before weather conditions become too cold. Lambs need careful husbandry after shearing, particularly if the weather is cold and or wet until they become adjusted to the loss of their fleece. Lambs should be placed in a well sheltered field and if the weather remains cold and wet may require housing for a few days or nights.   

The option to shear later in the winter when housing lambs is also something that is often considered and at times necessary. Shorn lambs take up less pen space allowing 10% more lambs to be put in each pen and as with shearing when lambs are outdoors  it will help to keep them clean. Also, lambs that are being housed for indoor finishing, particularly hill bred lambs, will need to be crutched and the bellies shorn if they are not already shorn. Therefore, the cost of crutching and belly shearing may not be dissimilar to the cost of shearing. If lambs are dirty at point of slaughter they still may need to be clipped at this point to comply with CLP regulations.

A key question often asked will shearing affect the performance of the lambs? Studies have been carried out in Teagasc Athenry to examine if there any performance benefits to shearing hill bred store lambs at the start of an indoor finishing period and results are summarised in Table 1 Shearing had no effect on the performance of lambs in terms of average daily gain, feed intake, feed conversion efficiency or final carcass weight. Although kill out percentage was slightly higher in shorn lambs there is no overall performance benefit to shearing lambs at start of indoor feed period.

Table 1. Effect of shearing on the performance Scottish Blackface lambs while indoors on an all concentrate finishing diet.

Intake (kg/day) 1.29 1.30
ADG (g/day) 196 199
FCE (kg feed/ kg gain) 6.63 6.56
Kill out % 45.9 46.8
Carcass weight (kg) 19.5 19.1

Source: M.G. Diskin & N. Claffey.