EID helping on a large scale - Jack Foulkes, Anglesey
- 2,900 Scotch Mule, Suffolk and Texel cross Mule ewes
- Replacements sourced from autumn sales
- Lambing indoors, ewes housed pre-lambing to maximise grass availability
- Lambing from ewe lambs
- All lambs sold finished at an average 20kg dead-weight
- 90% of lambs sold by the end of July
Farming on a large-scale is not preventing the use of EID technology at Marchynys farm on Anglesey. With a well-established system based on buying in Scotch Mule and Suffolk cross replacements and selling the resulting terminal sired lambs direct for slaughter Jack Foulkes is focusing on maximising profit for the business.
Jack was already using a farm management programme and simple reader to record flock performance but invested in a data recorder to provide information for the HCC EID Recording project. This has speeded up his data collection, particularly over the lambing period.
Peaking at up to 80 ewes lambing per day, Jack records the number of lambs a ewe has successfully produced as well as the number they are turned out with.
“Our system relies on good quality fast growing lambs so at birth each is given a score based on size and vigour. Any problems are also recorded so individual ewes can be selected for culling. With the high value of cull ewes these ewes can be worth up-to £120 so we can actually be better off removing lambs off poor ewes and rearing the lambs artificially or cross fostering to singles, and selling the ewes when prices are high.”
The ability to look up individual ewe records ‘in the field’ is paying dividends. “Moving to a more sophisticated reader and recorder has been a fantastic decision and it was the project that prompted me to take the decision to invest in the equipment which will really help improve the performance of the flock.”
When buying ewe lamb or yearlings as replacements, Jack focuses on sourcing well grown, strong sheep so there is a considerable investment required each year. Maximising the output from all ewes in the flock is e vital for the business and so ewe lambs are also mated. Last year 82% of ewe lambs held to the ram and the main ewe flock scanned at nearly 200%.
This does however mean that approximately 300 lambs are reared artificially each year but with the systems that they have put in place Jack is clear that these excess lambs do play a role in the business. “These lambs are still profitable with a rearing cost of £50 in milk powder and creep. We also know from the EID records in 2015 that ewes scanned as triplets were turned out with an average of 1.97 lambs each so they are manageable.”
At the moment lambs are not tagged at birth but next year EID tags will be put in the lambs to allow for the recording of weights and growth rates on an individual basis. “For our system to work we have a target of selling 90% of lambs by the end of July. I want to make sure the right type of terminal sire rams are sourced and this autumn some groups of ewes will be individually mated so that I can monitor the performance of their progeny.
Lambs which grow but fail to put on sufficient levels of fat and end up overweight are expensive on a creep feeding system. I want to get the most from my investment in EID by getting more information on the performance of individuals before they are sold.”
For Marchynys Farm buying in replacements is the right choice for the business provided every ewe earns her keep. By recording ewe performance Jack has found significant differences in the output not only of individual animals but also the average performance of ewes sourced from different flocks. “I have looked at the scanning results and number of live lambs produced from ewes sourced from different flocks and the range in performance is 30% so for every 100 ewes from the poorer batches I have 30 fewer lambs available for sale.” Jack sources replacements from autumn sales and can now look at the entry catalogue before buying to identify from which flocks ewes should be purchased.
A large-scale flock also means that relatively small changes in management can have a big impact on the bottom line. Currently ewes are given a mineral drench but this year some of the tupping groups will be split to see whether the cost is justified.
Buying in replacements also requires a good flock health plan and Jack works closely with his veterinary surgeon to ensure performance is maintained. Vaccination is used wherever possible to prevent problems occurring in the first place and ewe and lamb losses are currently recorded. “By tagging lambs at birth I am hoping that I will get an even better understanding of when and why losses are occurring and whether they can be prevented.”
“This ewe looks good but my records show that as a yearling she was empty and as a 2 year old she lost her own lamb and had the lamb with her adopted on. She is also one of a group of ewes from the same source and none have performed particularly well. She will be culled once she has reared the lamb and the no more replacements will be bought from the flock of origin.”