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Stackyard News Feb 06

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Cutting Lamb Losses to Boost Flock Profitability

Cutting lamb losses from birth to sale by just two percentage points in the coming season  offers English flocks the opportunity to boost returns by about £1/ewe or more than £7 million nationally, according to the latest English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) calculations.

photo courtesy of
mule sheep

The calculations highlight that reducing lowland flock losses from a current average of 10% to an achievable target of 8% and hill and upland flock losses by a similar proportion will allow two extra lambs to be reared for every 100 ewes, increasing returns by almost exactly £1/ewe at 2005 prices.

The fact that most flocks should be able to do this at little or no extra cost, means the increased returns will feed straight through to margins, making a very positive contribution to improving overall profitability.

To make the most of this opportunity, EBLEX recommends:

  • Scanning ewes to identify twin and triplet-bearing ewes both for preferential feeding in the run-up to lambing and as an aid to rapid fostering.
  • Meeting the rapid increase in ewe energy and protein requirements in the final eight weeks of pregnancy through careful nutritional management.
  • Giving ewes booster vaccinations 4-6 weeks before lambing as part of a clear health plan, that includes risk assessments for pneumonia, coccidiosis, nematodirus, worms, clostridial diseases and orf.
  • Preparing for lambing with well-organised equipment and colostrum supplies, sufficient labour (one person per 250 ewes indoors or 350-600 ewes outdoors), enough indoor lambing pens (one per 8-10 ewes) and a hospital area for problem ewes and lambs.
  • Keeping all lambing equipment as clean as possible, washing hands and wearing disposable gloves to assist ewes; bedding lambing areas well and disinfecting them between ewes; and treating lamb navels with a strong alcohol-based iodine solution.
  • Ensure every lamb receives sufficient colostrum in the first 4-6 hours of life for its nutritional and laxative as well as passive immunity value.
  • Fostering lambs as soon after birth as possible to increase the chances of success. 
  • Leaving lambs until they are at least 24 hours old, wherever possible, before castration and tailing to avoid compromising their colostrums intake.
  • Giving ewes and lambs sufficient time for mothering-up in small groups (10-15 ewes) and, where lambing outdoors, leaving them undisturbed in the birth area for a while and only moving them carefully to enable critical ewe-lamb bonds to be fully-established.
  • Making mothering ability a key selection criterion in breeding flock replacements, using EBVs to identify superior stock when purchasing rams for replacement breeding.

Further information and guidance on improving flock returns by reducing lamb losses is available to levy payers through the EBLEX Lamb Action for Profit resource at

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