MORE than half the sheep producers in Great Britain are still bottle-feeding surplus lambs, despite the fact that the practice is labour-intensive and fails to capitalise on early life growth potential.
That’s according to research by Volac at the end of 2016 to examine surplus lamb rearing practices. 
More than 580 farms participated in the online survey and while more than 99% said that it was important to rear the maximum number of lambs possible each year, only 45% are using modern feeding technology to boost animal performance and make their life easier. 
After reviewing the survey findings, Kate Phillips, an independent sheep consultant, said: “Some of the feedback did surprise me, particularly the fact so many farms still bottle rear when you can undoubtedly save on labour and get better lamb growth rates with ad-lib milk feeding systems. 
“Why spend hours a day bottle feeding when you could be prioritising your time on important tasks elsewhere during a hectic lambing period?” 
Not surprisingly, the lambs being reared artificially are those from triplet-bearing ewes in the main, together with any orphans. More than 80% said that if a ewe has had triplets, one was removed and reared artificially.
Ian Watson, Volac's technical assistant, said: “Interestingly, only a third of producers chose the odd one out in a group of three, which is what we would recommend. With good husbandry, organisation and the right milk replacer, there’s no doubt you can produce good quality lambs.” 
Surplus lambs can be reared artificially and without the problems associated with fostering onto an unwilling ewe, he pointed out. 
Mr Watson added that machine-feeders also record faster growth rates because there is no limit to how much or when the lambs can drink. Producers also say they see fewer digestive upsets.
“Most significantly, though, users also report a decent margin over lifetime feed of anywhere between £15 and £25 per lamb. This margin could be even healthier in 2017 if lamb price and demand remains buoyant,” he said.
"However, sound hygiene is crucial and lamb pens must be draught-free, well drained and bedded to keep lambs as warm and dry as possible. 
“Clean, fresh water also needs to be available along with creep feed (18% crude protein) and long forage offered ad lib to encourage early intake.”