Information key to progress for quality lamb producer

Getting Lambs Away at the Right Weights

EiD Technology

Adoption of new technology, including EiD with electronic weighing and a stick reader plus associated recording, is adding a new level of precision management to lamb production at Maesderwen in Abermule, Powys.

The 1,200 ewe upland sheep enterprise and 300 retained replacements, run by the Orrells family, aims to meet its supply commitments to Waitrose for a full ten months of the year, marketing a consistent flow of quality lambs as close as possible to the 21.5kg optimum dead carcase weight. With most of lambs reared off grass and fodder crops for less intensive finishing, regular monitoring of growth rates has become an essential part of routine management.

“Having the facilities to quickly and easily weigh our lambs is partly about being sure we market them at optimum weights,” explains Gary Orrells, “but it is also a tremendous management aid that is allowing us to learn so much and constantly improve our system. “With the early market lambs where growth rates are critical, we are weighing them monthly and then as often as weekly as they approach finishing weights. This regular monitoring has enabled us to assess the value of varying feed regimes, understand the impact of changes in the weather and know when best to move electric fences, and so on. “Growth rates are less important with the later born lambs, but regular weighing means we can manage our grazing more effectively and achieve the consistent output of finished lambs that our contract requires. It’s also really important when it comes to other management points such as dose rates with wormers, for example.”

“Having the facilities to quickly and easily weigh our lambs allows us to market them at optimum weights”

Gary Orrells, Powys

Maesderwen extends to around 1,100 acres in total and includes some arable and a 120-cow spring calving beef suckler herd in addition to the sheep enterprise. The 1,200 ewe flock is run by Gary and his fulltime stockman Chris Thomas, with valuable assistance provided by Gary’s wife Anwen and children Elin and Jonathan. The flock is made up of around 500 improved Welsh Mountain – which are maintained pure and bred to Aberfield rams to provide homegrown replacements – and 700 Welsh x Aberfield mules. The mules are bred to Abermax rams selected on their EBVs to produce lambs that will thrive and finish on a forage-based diet.

Use of the best available technology is, according to Gary, the best way to nullify rising costs of production, and this applies to all aspects of the business. “We are reseeding our grassland regularly with the best available grasses, using fodder crops to extend our grazing potential and using what we believe are the most advanced sheep genetics for our system,” he says. “On top of having these elements right, we are then monitoring performance closely to ensure our management is as good as it can be. Every farm is different so it’s down to us to find ways to make the best of our particular situation.”