Finishing store lambs on a concentrate diet? What you need to know

The store lamb trade is flying at the moment, with both short and long-term keep lambs in strong demand across marts.

It was widely reported by mart managers that beef farmers had been dipping into the store lamb trade and that seems to be the case still. Many beef farmers will have bought lambs to graze off fields that cattle were unable to graze due to the poor, wet weather over the last few weeks.

However, those that are considering going down the route of buying in stores and finishing them indoors should ask themselves a couple of questions before doing so.

These include: what price are you going to pay for stores? what weight are you going to buy them at? what system are you going to implement to finish them? and how long are you going to keep them on the farm for? (what length of a finishing period have you in your head).

With the way prices for stores are at the moment, there is added risk to buying long-term keep lambs this year as who knows what prices these lambs will make in a couple of months.

However, even though factory prices are out of the farmer’s control, the way in which you go about getting those lambs fit and ready for the factory is fully in your control.

With grass supplies short and, generally, at this stage of the year, breeding ewes are given first preference to what grass is left on the farm, farmers are left with either finishing lambs indoors on a concentrate diet or on forage crops. In this article, we are going to delve into finishing lambs on a concentrate diet and what farmers need to keep in mind when doing so.

Finishing lambs on a concentrate diet

In the case of concentrate diets, the purpose of supplementing lambs with concentrate feed is to provide them with a concentrated form of energy and protein and which also provides minerals and vitamins.

If finishing lambs on an all concentrate diet, it is important to make sure the diet is formulated for this purpose and to pay attention to the ingredients in the ration.

The concentrate should contain relatively high-energy ingredients such as barley, wheat, maize and beet pulp.

It is important that you look at the ration before purchasing and to become familiar with high energy ingredients and which ingredients have a lower energy value.

Lambs that are under 35kg have an extra requirement for protein and should receive a diet containing 13-14% crude protein, according to Teagasc.

For lambs that are heavier and close to finishing, crude protein levels of 12% are adequate. Also, make sure that the mineral and vitamin mix included in the ration is specific for intensive finishing of lambs.

It is recommended to include ammonium chloride at 0.5% to prevent urinary calculi (water belly) in male lambs. This happens when calculi (stones) which are made up of phosphate salts lodge in the urinary tract and prevent urination. This can be very painful for the animal. By adding ammonium chloride to the ration it helps to dissolve the stones.

Gradually introduce concentrates and build up

When finishing on an all concentrate diet, it is important to gradually build up how much you are feeding in order to avoid digestive upsets.

Teagasc recommends offering 300g/lamb/day and increase by 200g/lamb/day every three days until full feeding.

It is also advised to offer lambs a small quantity of roughage (hay/silage/straw) and to allow access to clean, fresh water – as each lamb can consume 4-8L of water daily depending on diet.

Therefore, it’s important to check water supplies regularly for cleanliness and supply.

Feed and lying space

Before even thinking about buying in store lambs, it’s important to make sure that you have adequate feeding and lying space for the lambs.

Offering an environment in which they can thrive will enhance performance while doing the opposite will obviously result in a decrease in performance.

Good ventilation, along with ample feed and floor space, is vital to achieving optimal performance. Lighter lambs require 0.5m² of floor space and for larger lambs, they require 0.8m².

If lambs are bedded with straw throughout the finishing period then it needs to be regularly replaced with fresh straw in order to avoid lambs becoming dirty and falling foul to the Clean Livestock Policy (CLP).

Also Read: Spotlight on the Clean Livestock Policy once again

Health

First off, all lamb finishers should draw up a flock health plan with their vets. When purchasing lambs, a couple of practices should be carried out.

These include: 

  • Quarantining lambs on arrival;
  • Administering a dose for fluke/worms (may or may not be required depending on previous treatments and the risk profile on the farm);
  • Running the newly-purchased lambs through a footbath.

If the plan is to keep lambs long-term, then they should be vaccinated against clostridial diseases and pasturella pneumonia two weeks before housing.

Furthermore, lambs should be checked and examined twice daily and any lamb that shows signs of ill health should be removed and treated immediately.

It is important to also be mindful of withdrawal dates when giving any products to lambs as some withdrawal dates are long, so keep that in mind when purchasing products.