By Debbie |James

A WELSH sheep farming enterprise, which had been losing income from fat lamb production because animals were slow to finish, says paying attention to the trace element needs of the flock has been key to reversing the problem.

Richard and Mathew Isaac farm in a severely disadvantaged area in the Welsh Valleys. They run a flock of 1250 ewes – nearly half the flock is Texel x Welsh ewes and there are also 550 Welsh Mountains, 50 pedigree Texels and 100 Aberfield x Welsh ewes.

The Isaacs farm 140 hectares and rent a further 120 acres, 10 miles away from Ynysybwl.

Their flock lambs in March and the lambs are sold from July to January. Two-thirds of the lambs are sold to Waitrose and the remainder through livestock markets or to St Merryn Meat.

Ewes are housed up to eight weeks before lambing and are fed according to scan results.

The Isaacs had been dosing the lambs up to five times because they weren’t growing properly. They wrongly believed that worms were a problem when in fact it was a trace element deficiency.

“Dosing was effective to a point but we were having to drench every three to four weeks and it was getting very expensive,’’ says Richard, of Mynachdu Farm, Ynysybwl, Pontypridd. “And we were losing money because we just couldn’t finish the lambs. We found ourselves selling many of them as stores.’’

Matthew researched closely the health problems of the flock. He recognised that the symptoms were associated with deficiencies of selenium, cobalt, iodine and copper, confirmed by blood testing the flock. The farmland is on coal measures and is short of these trace elements.

The Isaacs began dosing three-month-old lambs with Tracesure slow-release boluses. Around mid pregnancy, the ewes and replacement lambs are also bolused. This allows supplementation for both the ewe and the unborn lambs pre-lambing, and further supplementation for the suckling lambs via the milk until weaning.

“There really has been a general improvement in the health and condition of the whole flock. The lambs have been growing as they should be,’’ says Richard. Copper is omitted from the dose for the pedigree Texel sheep.

The flock grazes on hybrid ryegrasses undersown with red clover. In recent years a number of fields have been reseeded.

Improving pasture is often regarded as a means of getting more from grass but new leys often disappoint in livestock production terms. This can be due to trace element issues borne from increased polyunsaturates as a result of rapid grass growth.

Goitrogens found in ryegrass and red clover inhibit the proper utilisation of iodine by the thyroid gland. This can lead to a lack of production at best and, at worst, stillborn lambs.

Trace element supplementation has proved its worth on this system, says Richard.