Lincolnshire Strategic Farm launch event report - 24.10.19

Strategic Farm Launch Event, Thursday 24 October 2019

Speakers: Chris Elkington (host farmer), Mike Thorne (Rutland Farm Vets), Sarah Pick (AHDB)

Workforce: Chris and his wife Louise both work full time on the farm and their Gelston Lamb catering company

 Flock management at Chestnut Farm 

The land at Chestnut Farm consists of 45ha of permanent pasture, as well as 20ha of stubble turnips and 50ha of over winter grass. The sheep are split into two flocks; the indoor flock which consists of 154 Lleyn and Roussin ewes, which lamb in February, and the outdoor flock which consists of 183 Lleyn and Lleyn x Aberfield ewes, which lamb outside in April. Chris and Louise breed their own replacements which they lamb as ewe lambs aiming for them to be 35kg at five months of age. Lambs are either retailed deadweight to Dunbia , with around 30% sold privately through their butchery business “Gelston Lamb”.

 Increasing the scanning percentage

The number of lambs reared per 100 ewes put to the ram was 120% in the 2018 lambing year. Chris was quite disappointed with this. After looking into this further, mortality stood at only 2% from lambing to rearing, therefore, it was the scanning % which was causing the low figure. In the 2018 lambing, scanning was 136% and in the 2019 lambing year, the flocks scanned at 137%. The reason for the low scanning % in 2018 was an outbreak of Toxo which is now being vaccinated against. In 2019 the flock suffered from an iodine deficiency which has now been remedied with the use of a bolus. The ewe lambs also scanned low in 2019, with only 50% of ewes being in lamb. This was due to the poor grass growth in 2018, resulting in smaller ewe lambs at tupping. Increasing the scanning percentage is now one of Chris’s focus areas.

Reducing cost of production

Another focus area for Chris is to reduce his cost of production (£2.48 per kg of lamb reared). One of the main ways for him to do this is to improve his grassland management. Chris plans to implement rotational grazing and also carry out some reseeding. This should improve the grass quality whilst reducing his reliance on nitrogen fertiliser.

Improving grassland management

The farm walk included a visit to the lambs which are currently growing at 0.21kg/day. However, one of the challenges Chris faces is to manage the liveweight gains relative to their end market. The lambs going to Dunbia are creep fed so that they are finished earlier, in contrast the butchery business requires lambs all year round. On average it costs Chris £2.62/kg to finish his lambs. Chris is hoping that by improving his grassland management his feed costs will be reduced.

Improving worm control

Another area Chris wants to focus on is improving his worm control procedure. Mike Thorne from Rutland Farm Vets delivered a session on this topic at the launch event. He explained the importance of working with your vet to develop a worm control strategy within a flock health plan. Faecal egg counts (FECS) indicate the number of adult worms in the gut and is measured as eggs per gram of faeces. They can be used to:

  • Help determine the need to treat
  • Test the efficacy of treatment (drench test)
  • Give information on contamination going onto pasture

Faecal egg counts (FECs) are a monitoring tool and the results need to be interpreted with other information such as age of lambs, stocking density, time of year and performance levels. A demonstration of FECs was carried out at the event, using samples collected from the strategic farm. It is vital that the correct dose is given, and that it is administered correctly. Leave fit, healthy ewes untreated and use drench tests to assess whether treatments are working on farm. Check for worm eggs 14 days after treatment with white 1-BZ or a clear 3-ML and seven days after treatment with a yellow 2-LV.

Further information

Managing ewes for Better Returns

Trace element supplementation of cattle and sheep

Worm control in sheep for Better Returns 

Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) 

Understand your business costs with AHDB’s benchmarking tool Farmbench

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