Spring 2020 trial work examining the efficiency of rearing surplus lambs on performance-formulated milk replacer has confirmed the efficacy of the practice for high prolificacy flocks.

Two studies – one at Harper Adams University (HAU) and another on a commercial sheep unit in Lancashire earlier this year – clearly demonstrated that with sound husbandry practices, surplus lambs can be reared successfully away from the ewe.

At HAU, 13 Suffolk Mule ewe cross Texel surplus lambs were fed Lamlac via a thermostatically controlled Volac Ewe2 milk bucket and weighed weekly. On the Lancashire commercial unit, 100 surplus lambs out of Aberfield/Mule cross ewes were fed milk via a computer-controlled Eco Feeder; 51 of these lambs were weighed at birth, two weeks of age and again at weaning. Lambs on both sites were fed restricted milk from 24 hours of age until trained to feed from the feeders

Milk was initially provided warm (25 to 37°C) until lambs had learnt to suckle. The temperature was then reduced (to prevent over consumption) to 20°C for one week and then to 15°C until weaning (HAU).

On the commercial unit, the temperature was reduced to 20-22°C through to weaning. Fresh water, creep feed and clean forage (straw) was available ad-lib (once in group pens on the feeder).

“Lambs on both sites performed well – gaining, on average, between 0.31kg and 0.38kg per day from birth until weaning at 35 days of age (see table 1),” said trial co-ordinator, Volac research scientist Dr Jessica Cooke.

“On average, the HAU trial lambs weighed 17.78kg at weaning and the commercial unit animals 15kg (see table 2). Milk intakes were good at HAU, with lambs consuming about a litre of mixed Lamlac (200g powder + 800ml water) per day during the first week of life, increasing to 2.5 litres per day approaching weaning.

“These latest trials clearly show the value of rearing as many surplus lambs as possible on any sheep unit and we urge flocks to prepare their systems accordingly for the 2021 lambing season. On the basis of 2020 lamb prices, where many producers were securing up to £90 per lamb sold, any surplus lambs reared next year could easily clear you a £40 margin per head after feed costs,” said Dr Cooke.

Table 1. Mean daily live weight gain (kg/day) from birth to weaning at 5 weeks of age on site 1 (HAU, n=13) and site 2 (Lancashire commercial unit, n = 51).

Site 1

(HAU) Site 2

(Lancashire commercial unit)

Birth to week 2 (kg/day) 0.31 0.31

Week 2 to weaning (kg/day) 0.43 0.31

Birth to weaning (kg/day) 0.38 0.31

Table 2. Mean lamb body weight (kg) from birth until weaning at 5 weeks of age on site 1 (HAU, n=13) and site 2 (Lancashire commercial unit, n = 51).

Site 1

(HAU) Site 2

(Lancashire commercial unit)

Birth (kg) 4.37 4.23

Week 1 (kg) 6.25

Week 2 (kg) 8.68 8.75

Week 3 (kg) 11.85

Week 4 (kg) 15.32

Week 5 (kg) 17.78 14.96