Farming but not as we know it!!

Social Share
Share this post on

In the latest UK200Group blog post, Jonathan Russell of member firm ReesRussell, discusses the commerciality of the lambing process.

Jonathan Russell
I thought I would depart form the normal trend of blogs which currently would probably mean talking about the Budget of a couple of weeks ago, Brexit and the Irish border or even the midterm elections in the USA. So, I thought I would write about farming and specifically about sheep (though it could apply to goats as well)!

For over 25 years in the middle east sheep farmers have been managing their flocks so that ewes can produce lambs every 8 months rather than the traditional way in the UK of once a year. OK they have a different climate which means they often need to provide feed throughout the year and outdoor lambing can be achieved at any time. Some farms have moved to use Synchrony for their lambing process to compact the work load, so this may be going the other way.

Let’s think about the concept in commercial terms as it might apply to a UK farmer because as of May this year DEFRA licenced the necessary products to enable UK farmers to consider this sort of regime. There are fundamentally two concepts that a UK farmer might wish to think about: -

1. Rather than lambing at traditional times of year the procedure could be used to continue with annual lambing but to dictate more precisely when lambs might be produced, and hence brought to market.
2. Move towards lambing faster than once per year which would increase the lamb yield per annum from a given flock size.

So, let us think what moves like this might achieve: -

If we were able to control the timing of lambing, then the farmer would have more control over when the lambs would be ready for market and able to capitalise on the market price variations which occur – principally a farmer might be looking to bring lambs to market earlier when prices are often £40 plus per lamb more.

If a farmer was lambing earlier consideration would probably need to be for more to be lambed indoors and the likelihood of an increase in feed costs, but this might be coupled with the ability for a farmer to lengthen the lambing season, so more ewes could be handled through a given indoor area. Weather might also be better as lambing say end of November could be preferable to January or February.

Another thought might be the ewe/goat milk market which appears to be increasing. Here considers the possibility of being able to have a steady supply of lactating ewes throughout the year and the benefits that could bring to such a market.

The accountant in me, it is some years since I have had sheep of my own, looks at this possibility of variation as an opportunity where: -

A) The number of lambs produced per ewe per year could be increased
B) The timing of when lambs are produced is much more controlled enabling control over when lambs are ready for market
C) By lengthening the overall lambing period
a. less indoor provision/ pens are required
b. Labour could be better managed and less stressed as few ewes would be lambing at any one time
c. Fewer rams would be required for the total flock as the number to be covered at any one time is reduced and the average time to cover is reduced to about 10 days as opposed to the usual 3 weeks
D) If I was a milk producer I could have a steady supply of lactating ewes.
a. Ewes can actually be covered and put back in lamb while still lactating.

But there are potential downsides: -

A) Feed costs could increase
B) There is a cost of the treatment – I am told approximately £5 per ewe per lambing
C) Would the public consider it unnatural – I am advised the product is entirely natural
D) Ram potency does drop a little out of the traditional breeding season, but this doesn’t seem to impact of the successful pregnancy rate.
E) It may take a few years to move to a fully managed or accelerated lambing.
F) Traditional markets may not be prepared for sales of lambs out of the ‘normal’ season so direct sale to abattoirs might need to be arranged.

As a country the UK has become accustomed to being a low food cost economy and Brexit may mean a change in attitude towards farming and food production. Farming has become less of a way of life and more of a business and as an accountant I am always impressed with the business knowledge of the average farmer, but change takes time and traditions can take a lot to change. Now is when many will be looking at the future and maybe this concept might be one of those futures.

For those who may wish to look at this from a more technical point of view I refer you to Farmers Weekly

Tags: UK200

Back to Blogs
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn YouTube