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Labour: what sheep jobs can be cut with minimal effect?

10 April 2020

This year may be one to consider where labour can be streamlined for those affected by seasonal staff disruption as a result of the viral pandemic.

There will be potential effects to shearing contractors, lambing labour and marking staff. Whilst we may struggle to come up with answers to everything, consider now if there are any means to minimise labour demand.

For instance, do you need to castrate all the lambs?  Castration is often done as a precautionary measure to prevent unwanted pregnancies as the lambs hit puberty.  Some successfully manage entire ram lambs separate to the ewe lambs and sell with no problems at 8-9 months old.  This has no impact on meat quality and, although there might be more groups to manage post-weaning, it can work quite well for lamb growth rates.  It this management sounds infeasible, reduce the amount of castration required by leaving singles or those born early in the lambing period.

The same question could be applied to tailing, although the implications of not tailing could lead to further work down the line – dagging and treating flystrike.  These two issues will vary from farm to farm as there are genetic and environmental influencers at play.  Perhaps use this year to experiment- tail the female replacements and again, leave anything that will hopefully be off-farm quickly and therefore less exposed to the risks.

Consider mobile handling pens to reduce the need to move stock over great distances.  Have a discussion with the team: what are the big labour tasks and how can these be streamlined?  Nothing like a pandemic to focus the mind on farm working efficiency.  Many things are out with our control but some thought now will hopefully reduce stress later.

See our Coronavirus page for links to a host of resources which could be of use during this period, including Lambing Information sheets which may be of use for less experienced staff, and emergency planning sheets for all the vital information temporary staff might need.

Poppy Frater for the Farm Advisory Service

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