Taking stock

While grass growth rates have improved marginally, there are issues being reported with reduced lamb performance, tight grass supplies and inadequate winter forage supplies.

It is important to take stock of these metrics and put a plan in place to try and get back on track at an earlier stage of the year when there are more options available.

Lamb performance

At this stage weaning of lambs should be well advanced in mid-season lambing flocks. There is significant variability being reported in weaning weights.

Some flocks are finding that lamb weaning weights are running behind the target of 33kg to 34kg for terminal breeds after 14 weeks of lactation.

For others, lamb weaning weights are broadly in line with targets, but lamb condition is under pressure with regard to fat cover.

The complication for many farms is tight grass supplies. It is hard to be positive about supplementing lambs with factory prices in freefall, but it is important that options are assessed. Creating a finishing group whereby heavier lambs weighing upwards of 37kg to 40kg are batched for supplementary feeding will deliver on two fronts – ensuring drafting rates remain on target and boost grass supplies.

Every system will differ, but where grass supplies are tight and the aim is to bring all lambs through to finish, then this may be a better option now than delaying action and finding that options are greatly curtailed later in the season. For others, considering selling store lambs may be the solution or increasing fertiliser applications to boost grass supplies.

The most economical return, where introducing supplementary feed, will typically be in offering lambs 0.3kg to 0.6kg concentrates daily. There may be merit for some systems in increasing this supplementation rate, for example feeding ram lambs that have developed a frame but lack flesh cover.

Where grass supplies are tight, blanket spreading nitrogen at a rate ranging from 15 units to 25 units per acre, depending on stocking rate, or targeting higher allocations to swards that will deliver the best response will help underpin higher growth rates.

Many swards will benefit from P and K, but ensure you have scope with your phosphorus allowance.

Fodder budget

A ewe on average will require at least 1kg dry matter daily of good-quality feed to satisfy demand. For a 100-day winter this equates to 100kg dry matter.

Dry matter content is important – for example, a ewe will require 500kg fresh weight silage at 20% dry matter or 400kg at 25% dry matter, reducing to 330kg at 30% dry matter.

As a rule of thumb one tonne of pit silage @25% dry matter will provide feed for 10 ewes for 25 days, while a 650kg 4x4 round bale of haylage at 30% dry matter will provide sufficient feed for 10 ewes for 20 days.

Ewe condition

Reports also indicate that ewes are in general in lower body condition after a challenging year. It is important to turn the attention to regaining body condition once ewes are dried off.

It will take eight to ten weeks access to good grass supplies to increase a ewe’s body condition by one score (8kg to 10kg liveweight). Ewes should be split in to at least two groups – a batch requiring preferential treatment and a batch fed to maintain condition.