A 10% lift in lambing percentage, a reduction in barren ewes of 75% and greater lamb vigour are just some of the benefits of sustaining iodine, selenium and cobalt levels from tupping to lambing experienced on a Welsh sheep farm.
That the results were achieved in some of the worst conditions for lambing in living memory and for less than £1/head adds even more substance to the benefits of the approach, says James Price of Ty-Cooke Farm, Mamhilad in Monmouthshire.
“We’ve been expanding the flock in recent years from around 250 ewes to 500 whilst moving away from Suffolk crosses to Texel cross Mules and are keen to tap into their greater production potential.
“Although no specific trace element deficiencies are known on our land, a highly respected producer nearby got me thinking about the role of micro nutrients in increasing fertility so I thought I should see if I could use a similar approach to push lambing percentage from the current 160 – 170% towards our target 190%.
Mineral licks and thrives were used previously on the farm but James realised this was a pretty hit and miss way of approaching the issue with no known knowledge if animals were getting enough or some were getting more than others.
“We decided to split the flock into two groups – one group would get pre-tupping lick buckets as usual and the others would be given Agrimin’s new 24.7 sustained release bolus before tupping.
“The idea being that we would see if maintaining levels of Selenium, Iodine and Cobalt for 180 days in the ewes would have any effect on lambing performance and general flock health.
“Ewes were bolused at the end of August two weeks before the tup went in and at 85 days after tupping they showed a scanning percentage of 180% compared with 170% for the non treated ewes.
“In addition, only two of the bolused ewes scanned empty whilst the other group had 8 empty ewes.
Come lambing, lambs from the bolused ewes were noticeably more lively and stronger than the others, James says.
“The trial took place against the backdrop of the worst conditions possible and although we reckon this cost is 100 lambs, others in the area lost far more. We heard of one farm in mid Wales with 900 ewes that ended up with just 300 lambs. It was that bad.
“Despite the cold, our lambs from the bolused ewes had much more thrift and had a lot more ‘get up and go’.”
This year all the flock have received the bolus and all the cows in James’ 40-strong suckler herd have also been given an Alltrace high iodine bolus.
“I’m convinced there is more to this area than many producers realise. The fact that what ever the weather throws at you, you know the animals are getting just the right, measured amount of key nutrients they need for the critical six months of their breeding life is very reassuring.
‘The key for us is the precision of the approach and in truth it’s no harder to do than drenching or putting out licks. We bolused a group of 150 ewes this Autumn in just one hour 20 minutes without a problem.
Cost wise, it’s no more expensive than other approaches too, he says.
“With 500 ewes now, a 10% increase in lambing percentage gives us 50 extra lambs and at less than £1/animal for the gains produced, it’s a no brainer.
“It’s very much a part of our management approach from now on.”