ACHIEVING higher lambing percentages has helped increase lowland sheep flock margins by £11.50 per ewe, according to Eblex’s latest Stocktake report.

The higher percentages, having fewer empty ewes and increased growth rates, gave the top third of English lowland flocks an extra 11pc output compared to average-performing enterprises.

Gross output after replacement costs was £104.69 for top flocks compared to £93.19 in average flocks.

The data collected shows average lowland flocks produce 153 lambs born alive per 100 ewes tupped, whereas the top third flocks ranked on net margin produce 165 lambs.

Similar lamb mortality rates mean the top third flocks end up with 12 more lambs per 100 ewes to sell or keep as replacements, according to Carol Davis, AHDB/EBLEX senior analyst.

Liz Genever, Eblex senior livestock scientist, said key to achieving higher lamb numbers was a higher scanning percentage and fewer empty ewes.

“This could be helped by body condition score management from weaning to ensure ewes are at target condition score of 3.5 for tupping,” she said.

Mrs Davis added that the top third flocks also achieve 1.3kg higher average liveweights for lambs finished, sold as stores or moved into the replacement enterprise, and the average age of sale or transfer is 12 days younger at 128 days.

Dr Genever said improved lamb growth rates in top third flocks were not driven by higher creep feed use.

“The amount of creep used was similar at 8kg per lamb, so it’s likely that use of good genetics, better grassland management and good parasite control drives higher growth rates.”

Mrs Davis said the higher output is achieved with lower labour costs.

Paid and unpaid labour amounts to £32.37 per ewe for average flocks and £24.33 for top third flocks. She said: “This £8 a ewe difference is not related to lambing percentages or lamb losses, although some of the reduction in unpaid labour costs can be attributed to top third flocks being 30pc bigger.

“It can also be worth considering whether it is more cost-effective to use contractors for specialist tasks rather than having the equipment and doing the tasks yourself.”

Dr Genever suggested farmers should analyse the system to see what they can do differently. “Identify where labour is spent and ask yourself questions, such as could you take the sheep to the feed, rather than the feed to the sheep.

“Keeping sheep on a smaller area so they are quicker to check and gather can also save time and it’s better for grassland management to graze off a small area and then move them.

Investing in handling systems, so fewer people are needed can also be cost-effective.”