By Poppy Frater, SAC grass and sheep specialist

Lambs grow most efficiently during the first six weeks of their life. They get the best quality feed they ever will in ewe’s milk which is more than 13 MJ ME/kg DM, and their small size makes them most efficient at turning that milk into growth. Therefore, this is the window of time to get them growing well, so what can you do to capitalise on this opportunity?

The main thing is to ensure ewes have plenty quality grass in front of them as milk production is influenced by the quantity and quality of feed and ewe condition. This is where a ewe's body condition serves as a good buffer when feed supply is short.

However, if ewes lose too much condition at this stage, they will have more work to do later. Therefore, ewes and lambs should be on the best quality grass which should not be grazed lower than 5cm. If grass is too short, consider feeding ewes, particularly if they are thin.

This year, there may be greater pressure to get lambs away as quick as possible when the markets look uncertain, parts of the country are already drying up and, with changes to selling logistics, some might be stocked tighter than usual.

On face value, it is difficult to justify creep feeding for lambs born after mid-March. However, if these potential issues are of concern, creep feeding could reduce future risks. Feeding at this stage is also more efficient then feeding later.

The influence of genetics on ewe lactation and lamb growth are undeniable – consider how successful we have been selecting for high yielding dairy animals. Look at the Maternal Ability and Eight-Week Weight estimated breeding values (EBVs) when selecting rams to help drive improvements during this time.

Finally, how many of us have a gauge of lamb performance through lactation? Weighing around eight-weeks post lambing really helps understand how lambs are doing through this key period to drive management changes to continually improve. As part of a Knowledge Transfer Innovation Project with ScotBeef, FarmStock Scotland and SAOS, a lamb weighing guidance video has been produced which can be viewed at the following address:

To make this practical, we advocate weighing a random sample of 56 lambs in a group before you roll your eyes at this burdensome suggestion!

We hope for a good grass growing season to get those lambs off to the best start – it makes the job all the more enjoyable if nothing else.