Pet lambs: Economically viable or over-rated hobby?


While lambing well underway at this stage, Eamon Healy poses the question, what is to be done with the excess lambs on the farm?

Pet lambs: Economically viable or over-rated hobby?

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  • 1 year ago

While lambing well underway at this stage, Eamon Healy poses the question, what is to be done with the excess lambs on the farm?

Lambing is well underway across the majority of sheep farms across the country and so too with it the countryside is becoming adorned with fields of ewes and lambs everywhere you look. However every year there will be a percentage of triplets and quads or ewes that are unable to rear their lambs. This then poses the question, what is to be done with the excess lambs on the farm?

There are several options that may a farmer may choose when it comes to the additional lambs generated on the farm. One option is to create a pen of these excess lambs and when a ewe has a single lamb try and adopt a lamb onto her. All well and good if everything goes to plan however this is not always the case and the ewe can be wise to the goings on. Also this still may not get rid of the surplus population of lambs on the farm. Another option would be to sell the lambs to neighbouring farmers or through the marts as pet lambs for other farmers who have had ewes that lost their lambs. Then of course there is the option of keeping the pet lambs and rearing them on powdered milk.

With advancements in the industry there are numerous technologies available to us for rearing pet lambs like automatic feeders that can mix the milk powder and supply a steady supply of warm milk to the lambs as if they were on the ewe. While all these advancements are very impressive and have no doubt reduced the labour involved in the process of rearing pet lambs it brings one to wonder whether or not when all is said and done is there really any profit left at the end of it?

With milk powder in no way a cheap commodity and the cost of the machinery involved in feeding the lambs you don’t be long in adding up the money associated with the process. This is without taking into account meal feeding and some type of forage for the lambs also when they are on the milk and when they are eventually being weaned off. Also there is no guarantee that all these lambs are going to make it to the finish line and by that I mean there is a lot of disease and problems associated with rearing pet lambs indoors. It is hard to beat have lambs out at grass where it is clean and they have less chance of developing scour or other associated problem indoors. So when weighing up the viability potential losses must be taken into consideration.

Now I am not saying that in no way it is not a viable option. I know a lot of farmers that do and will continue to do it and get on very well with minimal losses and have great lambs and that are reaching excellent growth rates and reaching target weight in no time. I know in my own situation I have 3 pet lambs in a pen at home that we kept just for the novelty more than anything and in no way was it viewed as a commercial enterprise but these lambs are thriving like you wouldn’t believe and are doing as good as my commercial flock lambs that are out in the field if not better. However I also know the amount of milk and nuts and time it took to get these lambs to this point was no small bill and only it was a few lambs just for the family to be involved with you wouldn’t be doing it.

In my experience, I like to send as many ewes as I can to the field with 2 lambs by their side and this means I do a bit of chopping and changing with adopting an odd pet lamb here and there. Any pet lambs I have I like to give them or sell them to farmers I work with closely with and in return in times when I maybe loss the lambs from a ewe I know that they will return the favour. I’m aware that on larger enterprises this won’t be the case and I think that if a pet lamb business is run right and the farmer is aware of the costs and able to minimise it is a good route to go down if they see a profit and the end of the road. However, I think that if somebody takes into rearing lambs without properly analysing the situation and just because they had the excess lambs and thought it was the done thing could soon get a road awakening when adding up the costs at the end of the process.

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