Grass-fed Lamb production
Pasture lambing is best accomplished in April-May. Why? Because it is when temperatures start warming up the ground & forages begin to grow. The milder outside temperatures also help reduce indoor housing and lambing accommodations that would be required if lambing was in February or March, especially in the North East.
But what is the right choice of management for lambs. Should a producer feed his lambs on a high concentrate diet of grains after weaning at 60 - 70 days, or should he/she raise them on high quality pasture?
I hope you know the answer to those questions relatively quick!
High Quality Pasture of course!
This isn’t rocket science folks. I can’t for the life of me figure out why any producer would think rearing and raising any livestock inside a building would be a better alternative to the animals being outdoors on healthy/lush pastures where they can run and romp in sunlight, not fluorescent light. For some reason, at some point in time a bunch of corporate money baggers decided that raising animals on concrete with their feed, water and light being electronically controlled was a healthy option. Think about it, isn’t that kinda like prison?!
Thankfully many producers are now considering making better use of their forage resources by raising their lambs on pasture. Their decision is based on the following considerations:
- better soil stewardship and a higher quality environment.
- ability of ewes and lambs to harvest forage
- better carcass quality of lambs
- reduced cost of production
When the carcass characteristics of lambs raised and finished either on 100% grazed alfalfa & white clover or on 100% high concentrate in drylot were compared, they were found to have no difference between the amount of intramuscular fat. However, lambs raised on high concentrate grain feed diets had significantly more trimmable fat. Folks, that’s called WASTE. The trimmable fat may be reduced with the all forage finishing system but without large reduction in the fat content of consumable product. The forage based system would solely lead to reduction of waste during processing.
If lambs are raised on forages and then finished on grain the amount of trimmable fat will be the same as on lambs raised and finished on a high concentrate feed/grain diet. Therefore, the beneficial effect of raising lambs on forage is lost if lambs are finished on grain after having been raised on a good quality pasture. Again, WASTE of time and money.
The carcass quality of lambs can be improved, in terms of external fat, only if lambs are marketed at slaughter weight directly off pasture.
Disadvantages of raising lambs on "drylots".
-Drylots have to be cleaned on a weekly (if not more frequently) basis.
-Urinary calculi can be a problem if ammonium chloride is not added in the ration.
-Rectal prolapses have to be expected at the rate of 1%.
-Drylots do not have a good image to the consumers.
-Some sort of feed storage will be needed.
-Drylot needs to be built on a well drained terrain to avoid accumulation of mud.
- Feed cost is very dependent on grain price.
Advantages of raising lambs on pasture.
-More natural environment and better image to the consumer.
-Manure returns to the land although it is in an uneven fashion.
-Lower overall feed cost.
Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. The producer of slaughter lambs should study carefully before setting up his or her chosen system. Knowing that the carcass quality of lambs is not really affected by the type of feed, the choice of system will be based mostly on the management ability of the producer, your market opportunities, and your ability to find consistent trusted feed resources.
Creating a label for grass-fed is proving to be very controversial. This is because people have different interpretations of what grass-fed should be. The standards that USDA originally proposed for a "grass-fed" label stipulated that at least 80% of the ruminant's primary energy source be composed of grass, range, pasture, or other forage. "Purists" oppose this definition because it would allow short-term feeding of animals in feed lots or feeding supplemental grain to grazing livestock.
I will be the first advocate for Grass-fed livestock to point out the numerous health benefits that can be obtained from grass feeding livestock. According to various research studies, the meat and milk from grass-fed ruminants contains more conjugated lineolic acid (CLA), vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, and vitamin A than the meat and milk from grain-fed animals.
CLA and omega-3 fatty acids are good fats with anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, and anti-fat properties. The improved nutritional profile of grass-fed meat and milk may enable some producers to command a premium price for their products if they direct market them to consumers, restaurants, and specialty food stores/chains. We don’t abuse the opportunities we have to offer a healthy and wholesome product to ALL consumers. We understand that not everyone can afford to pay what allot of Organic or 100% Grass-fed producers are asking for their final packaged product. We have been blessed by God to be a blessing to others. We’re farming to make a living, not to make a killing.
A New Zealand study showed that lambs nursing dams with high CLA content in their milk had 37% more CLA in their meat than those lambs whose dams had low CLA levels. Single lambs had 35% more CLA in their meat than twin-born lambs. CLA is produced naturally by the microflora that live in the rumen of ruminant animals like cattle, sheep, and goats. It is formed by the digestion of dietary linoleic acid. The linoleic acid content of grasses varies by plant species and maturity, being highest in grasses that are in a growing, vegetative state. CLA is readily absorbed by the animal from the rumen and ends up in milk, meat, and fat. The concentration of CLA in animal products varies, partly due to diet and management practices. Even without diet manipulation, lamb is one of the richest natural source of CLA. Dairy products are usually the best sources of CLA. Ewe's milk contains more CLA than cow's milk.
As with all production and management systems, there are trade-offs to raising lambs and goats primarily on grass or confining them and feeding them a grain ration. A producer must choose the appropriate feeding and management system for his lambs and kids based on his available resources, market demand, and individual preferences.