Finishing plans

Feedback from farmers at the Tullamore Farm beef and sheep open day on Tuesday confirmed a significantly lower kill-out percentage in lambs in recent weeks.

The latest batch of 26 lambs drafted in Tullamore Farm last Thursday averaged 45% kill out. Nine ewe lambs averaged 47% kill-out while the remaining ram lambs averaged 44%.

A couple of lambs were down as low as 42% kill-out.

The kill-out percentage is 3% lower year-on-year and is likely stemming from grass quality and quantity issues dating back to June.

Farmers in such circumstances need to be mindful of these challenges and take greater care when drafting lambs.

Tullamore Farm manager Shaun Diver is finding that some heavier ram lambs that are displaying more of the maternal genetics are developing a good frame, but are possibly light on flesh cover.

This is something that will be monitored closely in the next two weeks. If Shaun finds lambs are not covered sufficiently he will consider introducing concentrate supplementation earlier than planned.

This will be targeted feeding in the region of 300g/head/day and will be offered along with good-quality grass to ensure lambs are kept moving.

Farmers with similar fears of ram lambs being harder to finish in the coming months would be best served by adjusting finishing plans sooner rather than later.

If introducing supplementary feeding, it is best to target the lambs that will deliver the best response – these are forward lambs weighing upwards to 38-40kg.

The focus with lighter lambs should be to drive performance from grass and introduce meal when lambs reach a stage to be pushed on to finish.

Grass supplies

Reports from some farmers also pointed to grass growth rates remaining at a very low level despite soil moisture deficits abating.

In some cases the swards in question are old permanent pastures that have received little to no fertiliser and nutrients are depleted to support higher growth rates.

Care is needed not to let grass growth rates and supplies fall to a level where big issues start to emerge. It will not be long until discussions will turn to starting to build a reserve of grass to sustain finishing lambs and ewes in the lead up to breeding.

There are a number of options available to farmers as outlined below, and again early planning is vital to prevent issues emerging.

  • Apply fertiliser: the earlier fertiliser is applied in August the better the response will be with growth rates following a seasonal decline from here on.

    Heavily stocked farms should be applying in the region of 20 to 25 units nitrogen on swards which do not possess clover, while lower-stocked farms will benefit from a lower application of 10 to 15 units of nitrogen.

  • Reduce demand: for some selling cull ewes or store lambs early will be a more attractive proposition than upping fertiliser rates.

    Consider the type of lambs generating the best return in the market and remember presentation is key to optimising competition levels.

  • Spread lime: increasing the pH of the soil to the desired level will increase the efficiency of applied nutrients while also freeing up nutrients locked up in the soil due to a lower pH.
  • Grazing management: rotational grazing and providing swards with a rest opportunity will help swards recover faster.