Rearing lambs in the public eye
Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park offers near year-round bottle feeding of young lambs as a key visitor attraction. But livestock manager Mike Caunter also relies on Volac computerised feeding technology and Lamlac to ensure all his surplus lambs and goat kids are reared as well as possible.
Established in 1971 by Adam’s father Joe to help publicise issues relating to the survival of rare breeds of farmed British livestock, Cotswold Farm Park now attracts more than 150,000 visitors a year. During the peak spring lambing season – between February half term and the Easter school holidays – more than 35,000 people pour through the gates, with many families intent on giving their young children an opportunity to bottle feed a young lamb or goat kid.
“Lambs need to be three-weeks of age before they can be fed by the public, so until they are old enough our surplus lambs are fed formulated ewe milk replacer by computerised feeder, Mike explains."
“Any three week plus lambs can then be fed twice a day by bottle during park opening hours, but they still go back onto ad lib computerised machine feeding when we are closed. Once a lamb reaches six weeks of age it comes off the machine and is only bottle fed, twice a day, by the public. It also has access to water, solid feed and roughage,” he says.
Mike adds that most visitors assume they are bottle feeding an orphan lamb.
“The reality is they are not; we make it clear that they are actually feeding a surplus triplet or even quad young lamb that a ewe has not had enough milk to rear herself.”
Alongside the rare sheep breeds that the Cotswold Farm Park is renowned for keeping and preserving, Mike also runs 450 commercial ewes. The flock is based on New Zealand Romneys and Lleyn crosses, all EID recorded, that are put to Dorset tups as a terminal sire to produce good quality lambs for market.
“We keep about 150 rare breed ewes from 11 different breeds, but these don’t have many surplus lambs. Most come from the commercial flock, although we do buy in some three-week old lambs for early in the year and for October half term. In the last two years, about 15% of our commercial flock has had triplets and 4.5% has had quads. We’ve even had the odd set of quintuplets and even had a ewe giving birth to sextuplets, which made Sky News!"
The park is able to offer the lamb bottle feeding experience up until Christmas.
“Currently, we have to buy in three-week old Dorset lambs for October half term to effectively ‘downsize’ the lambs. This is so that we have cute young lambs for the public to feed, rather than fully grown animals. However, we have now invested in a small Dorset ewe flock of our own that we will be able to lamb over October half term in the future,” Mike says.
Labour-saving essential nutrition
Since taking delivery of two computerised Volac Eco Feeders – one of which is always on public display to highlight modern automatic feeding practice – Mike Caunter has been impressed with how much labour he has saved by using the computerised machines.
“Computerised feeding is working really well for us. Manual bottle feeding is demanding and tiring if you have to do it all the time, but these feeders certainly help free up staff to do other things. In fact, the machines are performing way beyond my initial expectation; it’s relatively easy to train the lambs to suck and I would advise any commercial sheep farmer with plenty of third lambs to rear to consider investing in one,” he says.
“The Volac Lamlac ewe milk replacer we use is always mixed accurately and the lamb growth rates are noticeably better on the machine. We never see any digestive upsets either when lambs are drinking milk from the Eco Feeder. And if any lamb is taken out of the public barn for a period and spends time on the machine, when it goes back in it is always bigger than its pen mates!”
Mike also says that when it comes to selling their lambs there is no way anyone could tell which ones have been reared and weaned naturally on their mothers from those reared artificially.
"We sell four lambs a week to a local farm shop in Cirencester and the rest go via Cotswold Livestock Marketing to Dunbia. Feedback on the quality of all our lambs has been excellent."
Visitors to Cotswold Farm Park learn that surplus lamb rearing is not exclusively for orphans.