Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador Blog
Tips for improving lambing performance
At the end of 2021, Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors, Tim and Louise Cooke made a 300 mile move from Hampshire to the Galloway Hills to take on a new farm in a starkly different landscape.
After their first lambing season at Nether Laggan Farm, Louise reflects on four key areas that have impacted their results at their new farm enterprise and she looks ahead to making flock health and breeding improvements for next year.
1. Indoor vs outdoor lambing
The Cookes began lambing their 900 EasyCare ewes outside in mid-March. At their previous farm in Hampshire they’d lambed inside so this experience was in Louise’s words, “an eye-opener!”
“In Hampshire, we used to do regular night checks on the expectant ewes,” she says. “Not doing this was a big change - we felt a little out of control, which was difficult, although we can’t complain about getting a good night’s sleep!"
“Instead, we had to rely on early morning checks around the lambing fields which had its downsides. Going around and finding things haven’t gone well can be tough but indoor lambing here isn’t really a feasible option,” Louise continues.
This year the Cookes saw very little watery mouth but experienced some joint ill cases.
“Being outside, it’s very hard to catch the lambs at more than 24 hours old to treat their navels. These things are all part and parcel of an outdoor lambing system, which we’ll have to get used to.”
2. Improving nutrition
At the start of lambing season, Tim and Louise’s ewes had a few prolapses, which they suspect might have been a result of moving sheep into well-grassed fields, two to three weeks pre-lambing at a low stocking rate.
Louise explains; “The ewes possibly ended up doing a little too well at the late stage of pregnancy.”
Looking ahead, the Cookes will be focusing on soil status to improve flock mineral health. In the past, the farm has sold mainly store lambs, but as new farm managers they’d like to finish off more on their own ground, but think the soil nutrition is lacking something at the moment.
"Our vet, Gareth Boyes from the Ark Veterinary Group, has advised us to give the sheep a cobalt and selenium drench whenever we bring the flock in,” she continues. “We’re learning that it’s well worth investing in a proactive relationship with a specialist sheep vet. It’s been a big help."
“We’re also focusing on improving our grassland. We’ve been liming a lot and have already tested 20 fields for their mineral status – we certainly want to be more focused with our fertiliser policy and hopefully save cost here.”
3. Monitoring fertility
As the Cookes are still new to the farm and the Scottish flock, one of their top priorities has been to blood test any aborting or barren ewes and to screen for any underlying disease problems such as enzootic abortion (EAE) and/or toxoplasmosis.
“We’re also looking at our EasyCare breeding policy and are already thinking about doing something different tup wise and are looking at the composite Exlana breed,” Louise says. “They are wool shedding, very maternal and produce plenty of milk, whilst still being low input sheep. We will also be looking for good feet and teeth, as well as high worm resistance and, naturally, the ability to produce good, finished lambs.”
4. Tackling lameness
Lameness has been one of the Cookes biggest flock health challenge this year. The ewes’ feet suffered even more during lambing. The upland terrain in Galloway also makes it more challenging to catch and treat the sheep when it’s needed.
“We simply don’t have the resources to manage lame sheep. The estate owner doesn’t like to see lame sheep either and is supportive of our plan to stamp it out.“
"To try and tackle the problem, we will be culling hard this summer - both in the shearling replacement group and amongst the older ewes. Anything that needs more than two treatments will go,” she says.
Later in the summer, when the weather’s drier, the Cooke’s are planning to vaccinate the whole flock against footrot.
“Overall, we know it will take time to get on top of things, but Tim and I are optimistic that we can improve the procedure in preparation for next lambing season,” concludes Louise.