Lamb numbers could be hit by bad year

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BAD weather last year could have an impact on lamb numbers later this spring.

Pedigree sheep farmers are well into and in some cases finished lambing already, with variable results.

St Boswells SAC veterinary officer Dr Elspeth Scott said some flocks had had poor scanning results because of the difficult year.

And she said: “Possibly this is because ewes are in poor body condition or because of fluke, which has been a nightmare this year.”

Poor weather and wet ground has led to livestock not thriving, while disease has had the opportunity to flourish.

Dr Scott said the Greycrook laboratory was starting to receive abortion samples to investigate, but added: “That’s not unusual”.

Other diseases farmers had either vaccinated for or were looking out for included toxoplasmosis, salmonella, campylobacter and chlamydia.

Suffolk breeder Arnold Park of Drinkstone, Hawick, says lamb numbers are down to about 80 from his flock of 70 ewes which, from conversations with other breeders, he said was common this year.

“Lambs have been smaller and have had less brown fat, the subcutaneous fat which gives them their initial survival chance, and we’ve had slightly more geld ewes. But the whole year has been totally wrong,” he said.

Late silage had a knock-on effect of leaving the farm with no foggage, which meant he could not get lambs away early and which consequently impacted on flushing ewes at tupping time: “The whole scenario has been a nightmare,” said Mr Park.

“One of the gains (of this lambing) of our Suffolk lambs has been their viability. The majority of them got on their feet and sucked themselves.”

At Viewfield, East Middle, Hawick, Charles Scott has five of his 30 Zwartbles left to lamb.

He said: “The lambing’s gone well because I’ve done it all my life and I was prepared for it.”

He wasn’t troubled by disease and lamb numbers are similar to last year. The only thing that is wrong is they eat a lot of feeding inside and feed is too dear.”

Clovenfords farmer David Mundell, whose 40 Suffolks are nearly finished, said it had been “okay”, adding: “I think the weather is having an enormous effect on everything.”

Dr Scott’s advice to farmers coming up to lambing is to keep an eye on the quality of feeding because of this year’s variable silage, especially when the ewe is in the last stages of her pregnancy and early stages after she has lambed.

She said ewes need to be given “plenty of energy-giving foods and reasonably good protein” to keep up their body condition so they can provide good colostrum and milk.

She added: “And if they do have an abortion, farmers need to make sure they separate these ewes away from the others so they don’t infect the flock.”