For Alison Melhuish of Trewolland Farm, Liskeard in Cornwall, rearing surplus lambs is part and parcel of sheep farming, but it is also profitable. Although it varies each year, Alison has made as much as a £25 margin per lamb.
“For third lambs and whenever we see one of our ewes struggling to rear twins for any reason, we always go down the artificial rearing route. It takes the pressure off our ewes and ensures we maximise the number of lambs sold off the farm,” Alison says.
Alison and her husband Russell, along with help from son Jonathan and daughter Emma, keep 600 Hartline and Hartline cross Suffolk ewes, and up to 180 store cattle on their family farm.
“We’ve been using Hartlines as our basic ewe breed for over 25 years. They look a bit like Lleyns and were originally bred by Oxfordshire sheep producer Stephen Hart. They are quite prolific and are recognised for their sound mouths and feet. They are also easy to lamb, produce plenty of milk and rear strong lambs.”
Hartline ewes are crossed with a Suffolk ram and then a Texel. Home-reared ewe lambs go to a South Down. The Melhuish family also keep some Zwartbles.
Their diverse flock lambs inside in three batches. About 360 ewes lamb in January with another 150 ewes lambing in February. The ewe lambs lamb in March.
“I absolutely hate finding any dead lambs, so we do our best to keep everything alive and thriving. That starts with a sound flock health programme and making sure newborns receive enough colostrum from their mothers before they are 24 hours old. If practical we always try to leave surplus lambs on their mothers for 2-3 days before removing them,”Alison says.
“If we get any triplets, we always remove the odd one out to leave a balanced pair on the ewe. We’ll also remove one of twins if a ewe has a bad udder – suffering from mastitis, for example – or is in poor condition for any reason.”
Alison Melhuish finds surplus lamb rearing pretty straightforward. “Once you have a proven system in place it works really well. And with the labour-saving kit available now, it’s cost-effective.”
Alison starts newborns off under a heat lamp on an orphan lamb feeder before moving them onto a Volac Ewe2 feeder once they are 2-3 weeks of age.
“Baby lambs need warmth to thrive and to be fed Lamlac in my view,” Alison says. “I’ve tried other ewe milk replacers periodically but have always come back to Lamlac. We’ve even lost lambs on alternative powders and also seen bloat issues, but never on Lamlac. Our surplus lambs do as well as those out in the field on the ewes, so we wouldn’t change anything now.”
Surplus lambs have access to pelleted solid feed while they are on the milk and are weaned when they weigh about 12kg, although Alison uses a mix of age, daily food consumption, appearance and weight to make the weaning decision.
Alison is making such a good job of it that she will also be rearing another 100 surplus lambs for her friend this year. “They keep 800 ewes and need some help this year, so Emma and I will be taking care of her surplus lambs. She’s a committed Lamlac user too, so I’ve already had strict instructions not to waiver from our usual rearing plan!”