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Strong lamb prices throughout 2021 have had a positive impact on optimism amongst UK sheep farmers with more than 55% claiming they put more ewes to the ram last autumn than during the same period in 2020.

Over 70% of flockmasters say they are more confident in the future of the UK sheep industry with 94% intending to rear the maximum of lambs possible during 2022; saying that this will be either very (24%) or extremely (70%) important for enterprise profitability.

The findings come from the latest Volac Lamlac lamb rearing intentions survey carried out during November 2021. More than 250 (260) sheep producers responded.

“It’s encouraging to receive such positive feedback from the industry and it’s clear that a majority of sheep farmers now understand the value to be found in rearing surplus lambs. So much so that 42% of this year’s survey respondents say they will be focusing extra resources on rearing surplus lambs compared with previous years,” said survey co-ordinator, Samantha Sampson from Volac.

She added that 24% of sheep farmers claim to have already changed their approach to rearing these extra lambs over the last three years. “This is reflected in the increased interest we have received in automatic feeding equipment for lambs reared off the ewe in recent times.”

Ms Sampson explained that perhaps not surprisingly, the survey findings show that the lambs being reared off the ewe are those from triplet-bearing ewes, together with any orphans.

“On the whole, 82% of farmers say that if a ewe has had triplets, one lamb would be removed. What is particularly interesting though is the lamb selection choice criteria employed. The majority (29% of the sample) remove the odd one out in a group of three – which is what we would recommend.”

Ms Sampson said that Volac’s advice is to always leave a balanced pair of lambs on the mother.

“From the survey, it suggests that a mix of criteria are being employed to make this choice, with removal of the weakest lamb (23% of units) being the most popular. Other norms include always taking the strongest lamb (15%), or the smallest (13%). Just over 10% of farmers say they typically select the largest triplet, 5% said they tend to remove a male lamb with a similar proportion saying they generally take a female.”

Interestingly, across the whole sample more than 66% of farmers would also consider removing a lamb from a twin-bearing ewe lamb to take the pressure off and allow her to keep milking and growing.

Machine-rearing benefits

Volac says that surplus lambs can now be reared very efficiently off the ewe with labour-saving machines and without the problems associated with fostering onto an unwilling ewe.

“With good husbandry, organisation, the appropriate feeding equipment and the right performance-formulated ewe milk replacer, there’s no doubt you can produce good quality lambs, as well as make a decent margin from them currently while saving hours of effort and hassle. And it’s good to know UK sheep farmers are increasingly appreciating that – as well as discovering that when using Lamlac, it really is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

“To rear a surplus lamb effectively, simply feed 10kg of Lamlac mixed with water at the rate of 200g per litre; and then wean the lamb abruptly when it reaches 35 days of age,” said Ms. Sampson.