By Colleen Acres
With lambing time completed on most farms and pasture and haying season well underway, this time of year is an excellent time to focus on market plans and taking stock of what worked and what can be improved on for next year.
The biggest market for lambs in the year has just passed. The Islamic Eid Al Adha Festival of Sacrifice saw huge demand and lots of supply going through auction markets across Ontario recently. The price dipped a little but is still a strong and reasonable price. It is yet to be seen what the markets will do for the remainder of the season. If you did not market for this holiday, do not despair, there remains demand for lamb year-round.
Some producers opt for selling lamb and cuts of lamb locally to farm gate customers. This requires pre-booking slaughter dates and if you haven’t received fall dates at this point you may be out of luck. Price cuts or whole carcass using market prices to guide you and cover processing charges and your time and effort for delivery, order taking etc. Providing recipes and other meat or vegetable items to your customers keeps them coming back and an opportunity to learn and connect with local farms.
As lambs get marketed you can then assess your production. Did lambs gain well? Did they have good finish? Were mortality levels kept at a reasonable rate? Is the ewe flock in good body condition? What was my weaning rate (#lambs to ewe)? What was the marketable lamb to ewe ratio? How can I improve on any of the above?
To improve on fertility levels, a few things can be done easily. Check ewe nutrition. Handle the ewes and rate them according to body condition score and adjust as needed. If you have some thin ewes consider separating them and getting better feed quality into those ewes. Check fecal samples if they are on pasture. Work with a vet and /or a fellow producer/mentor on best strategies to manage internal parasites. What treatment protocols work, what pasture management works? Consider using flushing prior to breeding as a strategy to both improve nutrition, body condition score and number of eggs available to conceive when rams are introduced. Flushing can be done with grain or lush fresh pasture and should start two weeks prior to planned breeding time with a focus on increasing the energy intake levels. Teaser rams (vasectomized males) can also assist with increasing ovulation rates and decreasing time spent lambing out ewes as it brings ewes into tighter cycling schedule. If using teaser rams leave them with ewes 12-13 days, pull them out and then introduce the intact ram.
If long-term gains are wanted on fertility levels, take a look at using a ram of a more prolific breed and then retaining daughters out of that ram. Just using a prolific ram on your existing ewe flock will not add more lambs as it is the female that determines number of lambs born.
Reviewing practices and making minor adjustments can reap rewards. Keep taking stock and managing for improved flock performance.