Pics: A closer look at Teagasc Athenry’s hill lamb finishing system

Teagasc is carrying out a major trial to examine the variation in performance of hill lambs finished under an intensive system.

The trial, which is in its third year, looks at the key traits of Connemara-Mayo, Cheviot, Perth and Lanark type lambs purchased from hill farms and the differences between the breeds when finished intensively indoors.

As part today’s open day at the Athenry campus, farmers were given a behind the scenes look at the production system and were presented with the key performance differences between the breeds.

About the finishing system

Some 400 mountain or hill lambs are bought on an annual basis to identify the key differences between the breeds.

The lambs involved in the study are purchased off farms in late August and are introduced to concentrates while at grass.

At housing, lambs are put on an all-concentrate diet for approximately 60 days and are also offered in the region of 200-300g of grass silage on a daily basis to ensure that rumen function is maintained prior to slaughter.

Perth type ram lambs being finished intensively
Perth type ram lambs being finished intensively

Preliminary results

Preliminary results from the trial show that the performance of Cheviot lambs, measured as average daily gain (ADG), was significantly higher than the three Scottish Blackface breeds.

The research work shows that the three Blackface mountain breeds have similar performance when finished under an intensive all-concentrate system.

Cheviot ram lambs
Cheviot ram lambs

Preliminary results also show that the Connemara-Mayo lamb had a similar kill-out percentage to Cheviot lambs, but both the Cheviot and Connemara-Mayo Scotch had significantly higher kill-out than the Lanark or Perth type lambs.

Along with having similar kill-outs to the Cheviot lambs, the Connemara-Mayo lambs tended to be fatter at slaughter and had a poorer confirmation then the other breeds involved in the trial.

The research also shows that all lambs were suitable for the French market, producing carcasses ranging from 17-19kg, which achieved a premium price at slaughter.


Results: Variation across breeds evident in the trial

Source: Teagasc

Video: Some of the 400 lambs currently in the trial

Variation in lamb performance

Speaking at the open day, Teagasc’s Michael Diskin said that a significant feature of the recent studies at Athenry is the variation in the liveweight performance of lambs on an all-concentrate diet.

Much of this variation is directly related to the intake of concentrate feed by the lambs.

Lambs with high concentrate intakes of 1.8-2.0kg/day per day will perform at close to 450-500g/day, while lambs eating less than 1kg/day will perform at about 100g/day.

The Teagasc Research Officer said that in any group of lambs there will be a mixture of low and high performing lambs.

To avoid lambs becoming overweight and over-fat, regular weighing of lambs is important, particularly as they approach slaughter, he said.

Connemara-Mayo type lambs
Connemara-Mayo type lambs