Making money from surplus lambs

Every flock will have a few lambs that either need to be adopted on to another ewe or be artificially reared, but for Northumberland sheep producer Malcolm Corbett a more strategic approach to rearing surplus lambs actually makes sound economic sense.

Making money from surplus lambs

Rearing lambs artificially

Mr Corbett and his wife Anne run 650 ewes and 50 autumn calving pure Limousin suckler cattle at 500-acre Dykeshead Farm, Rochester in the heart of Redesdale.

We run a traditional hill farm extending up to 1200 feet and although we used to keep Blackfaces, we recently switched to Lleyns and Texel cross Lleyns in the quest for a higher value lamb.

The aim was to improve our income from lamb sales and with the Lleyn we've found a breed that will thrive up here just as well as the Blackface. Running Lleyns in this hill country does mean doing things differently, but we're confident we have made the right decision," Mr Corbett says.

The Corbetts start lambing on 1st April and have seen their new flock lambing percentage steadily increase. Now the flock regularly scans at 190% and we expect about 70 triplet-bearing ewes each year. After lambing ewes go back onto rough hill grazing and not all could cope with a third lamb. And we don't train any third lambs onto gimmers. So although we do cross foster about 30 of our surplus lambs onto older single-bearing ewes, that still leaves us about 40 to rear artificially each year.

Making a margin from surplus lambs

Mr Corbett is confident he can make a decent margin on any orphan and triplet lambs he takes off his ewes. I reckon we can rear these surplus lambs for about £55 and if they continue to make about £75-£80 when finished as they have done in each of the last two years - we are clearing about £25 a lamb. We always sell them deadweight at 18-19kg because they do look different, but the first are away in just 10-11 weeks. They are always the first lambs sold off the farm,  he says.

However, a lot of the credit for this impressive performance goes to Anne, Mr Corbett says.

Anne has always reared our pet lambs and does a great job, but we are learning all the time. The secret is a good nutrition and a hygienic rearing environment. As soon as they have had their colostrum (within six hours of birth) we put them straight onto Lamlac ewe milk replacer, which gives them a fantastic start. But it's important they have access to a good source of roughage and we swear by high quality, coarse wheat straw. They are also offered top quality pelleted creep feed ad lib, which allows us to wean them off the milk replacer when they weigh about 8-9kg.

Mr Corbett says surplus lambs quite often get a bad press, but he genuinely believes more sheep units should take rearing them seriously. To make money from sheep you need to rear all the lambs you can and we believe you can do it well if you are prepared to invest some time and effort.

Feeding surplus lambs via an automatic machine

The Corbetts are now streamlining their system still further for the 2017 lambing season to make life even easier.

Now we know we can make money from our surplus lambs we have invested in a Volac ECO Feeder. This will dramatically cut the time Anne spends mixing milk and feeding lambs. We also hope to improve performance still further. Quite apart from being less labour intensive, rearing lambs with an automatic feeder means the milk will be consumed little and often, which means less risk of digestive upsets and hopefully even faster growth rates, Mr Corbett says.