ALL flocks have lambs that need to be twinned-on or artificially reared, but Northumberland sheep producer, Malcolm Corbett, takes a more strategic approach to rearing surplus lambs.

Along with his wife Anne, he runs 650 ewes and 50 autumn calving pure Limousin suckler cattle on the 500-acre Dykeshead Farm, Rochester, in the heart of Redesdale.

“We run a traditional hill farm extending up to 1200 feet and although we used to keep Blackfaces, we recently switched to Lleyns and Texel cross Lleyns in the quest for a higher value lamb.

“The aim was to improve our income from lamb sales and with the Lleyn we've found a breed that will thrive up here just as well as the Blackface. Running Lleyns on the hill does mean doing things differently, but we're confident we have made the right decision," Mr Corbett said.

The Corbetts start lambing on April 1 and have seen their flock lambing percentage steadily increase. “Now the flock regularly scans at 190% and we expect about 70 triplet-bearing ewes each year," he said.

"After lambing, ewes go back onto rough hill grazing and not all could cope with a third lamb. And we don’t train any third lambs onto gimmers. So, although we do cross foster about 30 of our surplus lambs onto older single-bearing ewes, that still leaves about 40 to rear artificially each year.”

But he is confident of making a decent margin on any orphan and triplet lambs he takes off his ewes. “I reckon we can rear these surplus lambs for about £55 and if they continue to make about £75-£80 when finished – as they have done in each of the last two years – we are clearing about £25 a lamb.

"We always sell them deadweight at 18-19kg because they do look different, but the first are away in just 10-11 weeks. They are always the first lambs sold off the farm,” he added.

He credits this impressive performance to Anne:. “Anne has always reared our pet lambs and does a great job, but we are learning all the time. The secret is a good nutrition and a hygienic rearing environment.

"As soon as they have had their colostrum (within six hours of birth) we put them straight onto Lamlac ewe milk replacer, which gives them a fantastic start. But it’s important they have access to a good source of roughage and we swear by high quality, coarse wheat straw.

"They are also offered top quality pelleted creep feed ad lib, which allows us to wean them off the milk replacer when they weigh about 8-9kg.”

Mr Corbett said surplus lambs quite often 'get a bad press', but he believed more sheep units should take rearing them seriously. “To make money from sheep you need to rear all the lambs you can and we believe you can do it well if you are prepared to invest some time and effort.”

The Corbetts are streamlining their system for the 2017 lambing season to make life even easier. “Now we know we can make money from our surplus lambs we have invested in a Volac ECO feeder. This will dramatically cut the time Anne spends mixing milk and feeding lambs. We also hope to improve performance still further.

"Quite apart from being less labour intensive, rearing lambs with an automatic feeder means the milk will be consumed little and often, which means less risk of digestive upsets and hopefully even faster growth rates,” Mr Corbett concluded.