Basing weaning on grass supply

Article in Farmers Weekly 27th April 2018 

Weaning as early as 10 weeks allows lambs at Innovis’ farming enterprise in Ceredigion to hit liveweight targets because they can use the best-quality pasture without competition from ewes. 

Ewes and lambs compete for grass when there is pressure on supply, so the enterprise never weans lambs later than 12 weeks.  “There have been numerous studies in New Zealand that show once lambs get to eight weeks, the milk supply curve diminishes, while the nutritional needs of the lamb increases,” says Dewi Jones of Innovis.

When they wean is influenced by grass supply and the performance of the Aberfield and Highlander ewes and lambs.  “If there is grass in abundance and sheep have lots of feed ahead of them, we might not wean at 10 weeks, we might push it back to 12 weeks,” Mr Jones explains.  

Three hundred recipient ewes lamb indoors over 10 days in early March, with a further 1,000 nucleus ewe lambs lambing outdoors in April.  

Last year, lamb growth averaged 275g/day, with a weaning weight of 26kg at approximately 11 weeks.  All lambs are retained until 16 weeks, at which point they are ultrasonically scanned for muscle and fat depth.  Lambs not making the grade for breeding are sent for slaughter. 

Mr Jones says that lambs from the March lambers will almost certainly be weaned at 10 weeks this Spring.  Even though ewes were at target condition score 3 at lambing, they will struggle to hit peak lactation at three weeks because of challenging conditions this spring, he says.  “We haven’t fed any supplementary feed for three years, but we had to for the final three weeks before lambing this year.”

At weaning, lambs remain in the field where they have grazed with their mothers to help ease them into the new feeding regime, whilst ewes are moved to a field as distant as possible from the lambs.  

Mr Jones says early weaning has never resulted in an increase in mastitis rates.  “we would never partially wean or use drying-off tubes,” he says.  

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