Celebrating the big 5-0!

15.Mar.21

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Celebrating the big 5-0!

It’s sometimes hard to believe where we’d all be without it. We know for sure, and we’re sure you’d agree, UK and Irish sheep farmers would certainly have their work cut out trying to match foster lambs with available ewes and losing a greater number of struggling lambs to pneumonia and the like, but that is not all…

The Lamlac story

The story begins long before the development of Lamlac, or indeed Volac itself, with an entrepreneur of the dairy industry, Dick Lawes. Dick was a pioneer in the development and production of spray-dried fat-filled skim milk products that were required to satisfy consumer appetite for dairy in post-WWII Britain. It was here that his reputation in the industry was established.

And then there was a talented veterinary student by the name of Philip Paxman, who in partnership with his wife Mary was carrying out feeding trials with neonatal lambs at the family farm belonging to Mary’s father, near Bourn in Cambridge.

A story of trials

In a meeting between Dick and Philip at Great Common Farm, in 1965 Dick, so impressed with the enthusiasm, talent and vision of this young couple, realised the potential of a partnership. With this he agreed to supply all the diets Philip and Mary needed for their trials.

Like many students of the life sciences at the time, Philip was motivated by his concern over how the world was going to feed a growing population in the post-war boom. This stimulated his interest in improving the rate at which animals converted feed into body weight. As we know, differences in dietary efficiency are most marked before a young animal is weaned, so it is during this period that it was easy to compare the relative merits of a variety of milk-based diets through simple feed trials.

This idea was particularly attractive to Dick Lawes, who at the time had a keen interest in improving the productivity of Irish dairy herds as well as creating an outlet
for surplus spray-dried, fat-filled milk powder from his human-grade factory.

The success of early trials at Great Common Farm were marked, with improved survival rates and remarkable conversion rates among orphaned lambs and triplets removed from the ewe. So remarkable were these trials that animal feed company ‘Lever Brothers’, sponsored a detailed carcass analysis.

In 1966, after qualifying, Philip went on to continue to dedicate his time to lamb nutrition, which was much less understood than dairy nutrition as a lecturer at The Royal Veterinary College in London. Here, he worked closely with celebrated biologist, agricultural scientist and animal welfare expert, Professor Colin Spedding who had a keen interest in animal husbandry systems. In time, this relationship would lead to the development of not only milk replacers but also weaning and finishing diets and feeding equipment.

Exporting the know-how

While not commonplace in the UK, Sheep milk is widely used in many European countries for making cheese and yogurt. A wasteful consequence of this is the early removal of lambs from their mothers and their subsequent untimely slaughter. Philip identified the huge waste of a valuable resource in this practice, instead believing that lambs could be raised on milk replacers and used to help expand flocks, increase sales of lamb meat and raise productivity. Here he envisaged the used of automatic feeders as an integral part of raising large numbers of lambs.

It was at this time once again that Philip and Mary would seek Dick’s support with the development of this system and extensive trials in Europe.

They went on to successfully patent their design and went on to manufacture and market their system.

Later, in 1968 they decided to test their theories in the home of feta cheese – Greece. The project involved a journey across land and sea, in a Land Rover packed with milk powder and feeders to Thessaloniki, where they persuaded local sheep farmers to raise their lambs rather than slaughter them young.

Over the next 18 months they demonstrated their new lamb rearing technique all along the Aegean coast to Athens and to American Farm Schools in Lebanon and Cyprus and even in to Libya (though with less success). It was in Greece that their newly formulated milk replacer, later branded as Lamlac, was first sold.

Despite the success of the milk-replacer in rearing flocks of more than 6,000 lambs on one of the largest sheep dairying operations in Spain, attempts to extend into commercial flocks were fruitless.

A story of determination

Undeterred, Dick Lawes believed that Philip’s milk replacers had more than a good chance of success in the UK especially given the sale of small volumes to UK farmers concurrently with the sales in Europe. This provided a valuable platform for expansion once Volac was established.

With this, Volac Ltd. was born and on 1st March 1970, began trading. In 1970 Volac acquired Philip and Mary’s company in exchange for 25% of Volac’s shares.

It was the establishment of the Volac brand and subsequent sub-brands within it – all utilising the ‘lac’ appendage that paid homage to it’s ‘Millac’ origins, that proved to be an inspired way of quickly establishing corporate identity.

While Volac Easy Mix was successfully launched to the dairy farming community in 1970, Lamlac was a slightly slower burn and was eventually launched in 1974 along with the automatic feeders.

A story of success

Until this time, Volac had been supplying Derbyshire-based Colborn Dawes Nutrition with Ewelac, which was similar to the product first used in the original lamb feeding trials by Philip and Mary. This was in high demand with the farmers who knew about it, since the traditional practice of feeding cow’s milk to lambs was both time consuming and risky due to the high lactose, low fat content of the cow’s milk – the exact opposite of sheep milk.

With this, Volac went on to market Lamlac as the ‘new improved version’ of Ewelac, and the rest, as they say, is history. Lamlac sales outstripped those of Ewelac and Lamlac became the market leader that it is today.

A story of expansion

A range of different products followed Easy Mix and Lamlac in the early 1970s. These included the first high fat, high protein fat- filled milk concentrate for pigs, and a pelleted milk feed for horses, called Horsepower, with a food value two and a half times that of oats.

There were always quirky stories demonstrating the benefits of Volac products, including the emergency shipment of Lamlac dispatched to snowbound sheep farmers in northern Scotland or the baby giraffe saved by Lamlac at the Lambton Lion Park in County Durham, both in 1975.

And the story goes on… (Yes whey!!)

In the mid 1970’s product development began to take a new path, with Volac switching from a skimmed milk production to whey. Spurred by the increased demand for skimmed milk for human consumption and the associated subsidies, Dick Lawes began backing research into alternatives.

The use of whey could utilise a troublesome by-product of cheese manufacture, which was both cheap and widely available, however the notion wasn’t met without scepticism. It wasn’t until 1990 that production began on the first whey-based milk replacers and it wasn’t without hiccups.

It was a struggle at first for the factory to make Lamlac with the same lactose content as it’s milk-based predecessor and extensive trials were carried out at Harper Adams Agricultural college to ensure the product could be safely used with it’s higher lactose content.

The new generation of milk replacers were launched in 1991 with the support of a much more professional marketing campaign which persuaded farmers of the benefits of this revolutionary and updated product.

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