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Record and plan your way towards increased flock efficiency

February 18, 2022

As preparation gets underway for lambing in mid-season flocks, consider the benefits of recording important information which can be used to guide decisions around flock management, including culling and selecting replacements.

Nigel Gould, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Adviser, Enniskillen, outlines that there are a number of high-tech options available incorporating electronic identification (EID) in addition to the more traditional hand written records which are also beneficial, albeit more labour intensive.  “In order to drive increases in productivity on farm, you need to know your current level of performance and decide on achievable targets.”  Targets for lowland flocks of greater than 1.7 lambs weaned per ewe joined and less than 12% lamb mortality from scanning to lambing mean that target scanning rate needs to be close to 2.0 lambs per ewe.  These targets will be difficult to achieve without a clear plan in place involving good record keeping and informed decision making.  If replacements are being bred from within the flock, these should be identified at birth and bred from good maternal lines.  In addition to selecting from the most efficient ewes in your flock, a sire selected for maternal traits is also important.  Important information to record at lambing time includes birth type (e.g. single or twin birth), lambing ease, lamb vigour and mis-mothering.  Incidence of abortion, prolapse, twin lamb disease (hypoglycaemia), mastitis, lameness and other health issues in ewes should also be recorded.  Similarly, record lamb health issues, such as joint ill or watery mouth.  Where lamb health issues occur, these may be due to poor colostrum quality and/or quantity, but may also be indicative of a hygiene issue in the lambing sheds or inadequate disinfection of lamb navels and may warrant a change in management practices.  Mark any problem ewes for culling and avoid selecting their progeny as replacements.

Lamb performance recording after they leave the lambing shed is also important, however may require some level of EID recording system to be a viable option for larger flocks in particular.  Knowing which ewes and rams are producing the fastest growing lambs is useful information.  Selecting ewe lamb replacements with the higher growth rates up to eight weeks of age will generally be selecting for higher milk yield.  Target a daily live weight gain to eight weeks of at least 280-300 g/day where no supplementation is offered. Having lambs identified as singles at birth will avoid these lambs being selected, thus selecting for increased prolificacy.  Low growth rate may also help indicate possible lamb health issues such as worm burdens.  Regular monitoring of body condition score (BCS) of ewes at key times during the year will also help guide ewe management.

Gould finishes by saying, “Although breeding efficiency into a ewe flock can be slow, the benefits are cumulative and will result in a more productive flock in the long-term.”  Levels and methods of recording will vary from farm to farm and range from notebooks or mobile phone apps to the more comprehensive EID systems with tag readers. The important thing is to start somewhere and this can be built upon. “Knowing your current level of flock performance, both physical and financial is important.” CAFRE’s benchmarking service, which is available to all Business Development Group members will provide key financial and physical information for your farm and compares this information with that of other similar benchmarked farms.  It can also be used to compare this year’s data with that from previous years.