Lamb supply meeting focus on Autumn finishing

John Wildman
John Wildman

The profitable finishing of lambs through the autumn will be on the agenda for a meeting of the South West Scotland Lamb Supply Chain Group this month.

The meeting will take place on 25th September at Dalhanna Farming Company’s Overcairn Farm, New Cumnock, Ayrshire, which is owned by Angus and Alice Campbell and farmed on a day to day basis by manager, John Wildman.

Taking place throughout the year and all over Scotland, these meetings are funded by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Farm Stock (Scotland) Ltd and the Scottish Government Skills Development Scheme and facilitated by SAC Consulting (part of SRUC). The aim is to enhance collaboration and communication in the supply chain, and improve productivity and profitability at all levels.

At Overcairn, visitors will hear how silage aftermaths, fodder rape and Italian ryegrass reseeds are managed to finish lambs through the autumn. Besides manager John Wildman, visitors will hear from Ryan Law of Dunbia, Rhidian Jones of SAC Consulting, Jim Kennedy of Farm Stock (Scotland) and Jack Ballard from Stock Trace.

Mr Wildman has been with the Campbell family for 12 years and is responsible for 8000 acres which rise from 600 feet to 2200 feet. Around 6500 acres is hill and 500 forestry which leaves about 1000 acres of in-bye grass.

The farm supports 300 spring-calving Saler cross Aberdeen Angus and Saler cross Simmental suckler cows which are put to a Charolais bull and the progeny sold store at 10 to 12 months.

The 2600 ewes are divided into three flocks ranging from Blackies bred pure on the hard hill, through North Country Cheviots to Cheviot Mules put to the terminal Beltex X Texel tups on the better ground.

The Cheviot wether lambs are sold store but all the cross lambs and most of the Blackface are finished. “We try to finish everything off grass and fodder rape by Christmas, although we don’t rule out finishing the last few inside and using hoppers depending on the season,” said Mr Wildman.

Approximately 50% of the finished lambs are sold through Farm Stock (Scotland) and average 20kg deadweight. The most recent batch left the farm on 29th August for Scotbeef where 68% graded excellent or very good.

One of the problems of farming in this area is the high rainfall which averages 75 to 80 inches per annum. “The grassland varies from free-draining loam to heavy clay, with about 100 acres by the River Nith which floods regularly,” said Mr Wildman. The soil-type affects reseeding policy and Mr Wildman said, “I really like using fodder rape for finishing lambs but following crop failures in the really wet summers of 2011 and 2012, rape gets the best fields with the heavier land seeded with Italian ryegrass.”

Pasture covers are managed carefully through the autumn to not only finish lambs but also tup ewes. “Italian ryegrass has the added advantage of providing spring grazing for lambing plus a cut of silage,” said Mr Wildman. He added that he would like to try other fodder crops such as red clover and chicory and hopes there will be some feedback from other farmers at the meeting about such crops.

Mr Wildman thinks that one of the best things he has done on the farm is to install new, covered handling pens with Pharmweigh electronic scales, which makes handling and assessing the lambs easier, resulting in more even batches. How weighing scales can be better used through the season to improve lamb feeding and health management will be covered at the meeting.

Correct presentation of lambs is also a big concern for processors in autumn as lambs start coming off wet grazing and forage crops. Jim Kennedy of Farm Stock (Scotland) will demonstrate how applying a few simple rules will ensure lambs reach abattoirs in a clean, dry state without losing any weight.

To see the sheep unit at Overcairn on September 25th and hear from the above experts, please register your attendance with Kirsty at QMS on 0131 472 4040 or email info@qmscotland.co.uk