Tips for successful lambing: Q&A with sheep farming influencers



Tips for successful lambing: Q&A with sheep farming influencers

Sometimes the best way to learn about successful lambing is to see what other sheep farmers are doing. So we asked some experts about their experiences. Here's what we found. 

With so many variables at stake, sheep farming can often feel like it’s faced with uncertainty. Even lambing season itself varies hugely from year to year. But there are always things that you can do to stack the odds in your favour – such as ensuring you’re prepared for all weather eventualities, speaking with your vet in advance and providing your flock with the top-quality nutrition. Another strategy is to seek advice from your fellow sheep farmers to see if their methods trigger something for you. That's why we sat down with a few experts for a quick Q&A. 

Rounding up the experts…

Here's a quick introduction to our flock of sheep farming specialists. 

Gelston Lamb – A husband and wife team producing slow grown lamb in the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside. Twitter: @GelstonLamb

Thornbrook Dorsets – Father and son owners of a sheep farming business in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. Twitter: @ThornbrookZ99

Shepherd Jo – A self-professed shepherdess based in Devon, with 800 ewes and a small Herwick flock. Twitter: @shepherd_jo

Andrew Powers – Sheep farmer and contract shepherd based in Herefordshire who has implemented New Zealand technologies on his farm. Twitter: @MarcleFarming

Christopher Foster – Former curriculum leader in agriculture and Lincolnshire-based sheep farmer with Suffolk and Texel sheep amongst his flock. Twitter: @cbjrfoster

 Q1. How did you get on with lambing in 2019?

As is so often the case, ewe nutrition was a key factor in lambing success. Gelston Lamb's outdoor lambing flock scanned poorly and required a lot of assistance, which was later put down to an iodine deficiency in the ewes after they had not been feeding from their mineral bucket. Meanwhile, Christopher Foster encountered the challenges that are almost inevitable when you grow your flock. But beyond that, there were unexpected nutritional and housing challenges to tackle too. 

 "Our indoor lambing flock, which is made up of NC Mules, Roussin mules and a few Lleyns went really smoothly. They scanned well, we didn't have to assist many and we had minimal losses. Our outdoor lambing flock, which is made up of Lleyns and a few Lleyn x Aberfields scanned poorly and we had to assist a fair few."

- Gelston Lamb

 "Lambing 2019 was significantly different from previous years as we expanded the flock by 100 breeding ewes from 40, These changes were very exciting, but as the winter turned out to be milder than previous years, combined with a long, dry 2018 summer with poor grass growth and quality at tupping, created its challenges. Lambing percentage was down significantly. As if this wasn't bad enough vitamin B deficiency rose its ugly head, which also impacted the percentage – although this was corrected promptly. Lambs were fit and strong as a whole, but as we were ready to turn out, the weather turned and delayed stock leaving the shed. Once the stock was finally out, the sudden weather changes took the weakest." 

- Christopher Foster 

Q2. Did you do anything different this year compared to last year? What were the results? 

Sometimes trying something new can have big results. Whether it was using a highly renowned ram for tupping or making some nutritional changes, our experts weren't afraid to try something new.

 "All ewes were vaccinated for Toxoplasmosis which certainly improved the indoors lambing percentage. Lambs which have been affected by Toxo never grow very well and are a lot smaller at birth, so because these ewes were vaccinated their lambs had fast growth rates. We also changed the tup for our Lleyn ewe lambs from a Charolais to a Roussin. This was one of the best decisions we have made. The ewe lambs this year had minimal assistance and the lambs had so much more get up and go."

- Gelston Lamb

 "For the last couple of years, we have used shavings instead of straw in pens, which has resulted in less joint ill. We have also used feed buckets instead of cake for ewe lamb doubles and seen very good results."

- Shepherd Jo 

 "We kept overwintered tupping ewes on stubble turnips or ryegrass stubbles. This worked really well with prolificacy and BCS."

- Andrew Powers

Q3. Considering what you learnt this year, are you planning to do anything differently in 2020? 

Progress is often achieved in small steps. Taking what you learn in one lambing season and applying it to the next can help you move towards increasing levels of success – year on year.

 "We are looking at the lambing shed set up to be different from last year for ease of feeding and unloading out of the shed. What worked really well last year was to allow the ewes an outdoor area on the back of the shed that the stock can access from the shed. This will be a bigger pen this year as it really improved lamb health last year."

- Christopher Foster

 "This year we are using a homebred Shearling Ram on half of our Dorset Ewes and have now invested in a Rouge ram lamb to cover the other half of our flock."

- Thornbrook Dorsets

Q4. What's your favourite thing about being a sheep farmer?

It's hard work, the hours are long – and you wouldn't change it for the world! There's a unique sense of community among farmers that you can't find anywhere else. Here are some of the other reasons our experts love what they do. 

 "We are first-generation sheep farmers and we love that working for ourselves mean the kids can get involved too. We are also very keen on letting our customers see exactly what happens on the farm, and where the meat they buy comes from, through our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. It's extremely rewarding to hear feedback from happy customers."

- Gelston Lamb

 "No one day is the same, there is always a challenge. It certainly keeps you on your toes!"

- Christopher Foster 

 "Working with animals in some of the best countrysides in the world."

- Andrew Powers

 Over to you…!

With UK lamb production facing increasingly difficult market forecasts [i], now is the time to start making the decisions that increase your chances of successful future lambing seasons. And if we may offer a tip of our own? Good ewe nutrition in the six weeks before lambing is crucial. Did you know that 70% of foetal growth takes place in this phase?[ii] 

Here's to you and all the best for your next lambing season.