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Beef and Sheep Management Notes – September

September 1, 2020

Lambs – sell or finish?

With store lamb prices relatively positive this year to date, the decision needs to be made whether lambs still on the farm should be sold now or kept for finishing. Do a budget, allowing for the cost of bringing them through to finish and the expected value of finished lambs, with the latter often difficult to estimate. Look at market trends in recent years. Some of you may choose to store lighter lambs over the winter to take advantage of the typical price rise which occurs when lamb supplies become tight. However, be careful not to reduce grass supplies to an extent which will affect the main ewe flock. If surplus grass is available, which may be the case this year where cattle were housed earlier, finishing off grass may be a viable option. Lambs can gain 80-130 g per day at grass. However, performance is linked to lamb type, sward quality, parasite control and the absence of prolonged periods of wet weather. Creep feed will reduce the time to slaughter, but will incur a higher cost. The other alternative is to house lambs and intensively finish indoors. Performance is increased and feed conversion can be 7-8 kg of concentrate to 1.0 kg of live weight gain, depending on ration quality and lamb type. A source of roughage in the diet is important for rumen function. Allow a total dry matter intake of 4%. Lambs can consume 1.5 kg of concentrate in an ad-lib system and have the potential to gain up to 250 g per day during the finishing period, however large variation will still occur between lambs. Avoid feeding ewe minerals to lambs due to the risk of urinary calculi in ram and wether lambs. Also, take into account veterinary costs and mortality. 

Preparing ewes for breeding

If vaccinating ewes for Enzootic abortion or Toxoplasmosis, this needs to be done at least four weeks before introducing the rams. All other veterinary treatments and administration of mineral boluses should be carried out two to three weeks before introducing the rams. Ideal ewe body condition score at breeding is 3.0 to 3.5 for lowland ewes and 2.5 to 3.0 for hill ewes. Rams should have a body condition score of 4.0 before breeding. Disturb ewes as little as possible during the breeding period.

Quarantine purchased sheep

If buying in replacements try to minimise the chance of importing problems. Have a good quarantine strategy in place, particularly in relation to removing any resistant worms and scab. On arrival, keep sheep away from the rest of the flock. Contact your vet about suitable worm and scab control methods. Ideally, house them for

24-48 hours and keep them separate from the existing flock for at least three weeks. The perceived hassle will be well worth the effort if it avoids the introduction of health issues such as lameness and scab or worms resistant to any of the main classes of wormers.

BEEF

Scanning spring calvers

Scan spring calving cows and heifers now to identify empty animals which can be culled early. Early scanning (from 35 days after bull removal) will give a more accurate timing of pregnancy which will be useful during the busy calving period next spring. Consider early weaning and/or introducing supplementary feed to allow these cows to be slaughtered or sold before the winter housing period. In addition to savings on winter feed, these cows may be sold before the traditional flow of cull cows onto the market after the main weaning period.

Autumn calving cows

On many farms autumn calving will now be well under way. Close observation is needed both pre and post calving. Large calf size can sometimes be associated with autumn calving, particularly where grass has been plentiful and assistance may be required. Grass tetany, caused by magnesium deficiency can sometimes be a problem in autumn calving herds, particularly where there are stress triggers such as changeable weather or prolonged wet periods. The most popular preventative measures include magnesium lick buckets and boluses.

GRASSLAND MANAGEMENT

Managing swards in autumn

Nitrogen fertiliser can still be applied up to 15th September if weather and ground conditions allow. Apply 40 kg nitrogen per hectare (30 units per acre) to younger swards and drier areas to provide extended grazing for young cattle and sheep. At the start of September ideally there should be 30 grazing days of grass ahead. If ground conditions deteriorate on heavier soils, avoid poaching by housing cows and forward store cattle. Move stock quickly over the grazing blocks, ideally every one to three days, to avoid poaching in wet periods and allow swards to recover.

For information and guidance during the Convid-19 pandemic please refer to: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/landing-pages/daera-and-covid-19