Relevant Products

In order to achieve maximum economic returns, farmers need to plan production to meet the requirements of the chosen market. Buyers are becoming more specific as consumer demand for a quality product increases and European markets play a key role.  With the diversity of breeds in the UK and farm types, together with the seasonality of breeding in sheep, it is not surprising that a range of finishing systems exists.

Early finishing

For early lambing flocks, high growth rates are critical with lambs often weaned at 4 to 6 weeks old. Concentrates are good sources of energy and are highly palatable for young lambs. Intensive finishing on concentrate diets is a relatively easy process, with growth rates of 350 to 400 g/day allowing lambs to reach slaughter weight at 12 to 14 weeks of age. Considerable benefits in terms of growth rate may be achieved by the inclusion of high quality protein sources.  However, care must be taken to avoid rapid weight gain to puberty in ewe replacements as it impairs mammary gland development and milk production.

Forage based systems

Alternatively, silage-based diets with appropriate supplements may be used to produce more modest growth rates, allowing lambs to be taken to heavier weights.

Store lambs

For bought-in store lambs, always treat for parasites and vaccinate, don’t assume the vendor has done this as issues here will limit live weight gain.  The transition from grazing to indoor finishing is critical when purchasing store lambs either straight off the hills or out of the market.  Careful nutritional management is essential to avoid digestive disorders, such as acidosis, and growth checks.  Acidosis is caused by a poor adaptation to a starch-based diet, with subsequent acid load in the rumen.  A gradual transition from forage to concentrates is vital, this process should take between two and three weeks.  Sometimes when lambs have not been exposed to concentrate, it will take time for them to start consuming concentrates and so will make the transition themselves.  Alternatively, it may be wise to continue forage feeding and introduce concentrates at a low rate progressing to ad libitum.  The inclusion of yeast in high concentrate rations will also help to combat low rumen pH and associated poor intake.

Where skeletal frame growth is required, rather than finish, a ration containing at least 16% crude protein is needed.  Insufficient protein prevents growth of the animal.  Including a protein source such as rapeseed meal, will improve growth performance of lambs on barley-based diets.


Stubble turnips can be a relatively cheap option, with high yield potential and a fast growth rate (12 weeks).  Good lamb growth rates can be achieved with minimal supplementation.  However, yields can be unpredictable and usage is dependent on weather.  Stubble turnips can be fed until Christmas, with concentrate feeding continuing into January when the turnips run out.  Where lambs won’t finish off grass and supplement, brassicas are an economical option.

Kale can provide an alternative feed source, providing winter hardy forage, however, digestibility decreases as the crop ages.  Also, growth rates may not be as high as expected as kale can contain anti-nutritive factors.  Swedes and turnips can also be frost resistant and provide high dry matter yield.  An area of clean ground will need to be provided to avoid dirty lambs.

Grass finishing

Finishing lambs off grass requires maintenance of short, leafy swards (4-6 cm) with high intake characteristics and high nutritional value, encouraging maximum leaf growth.  Use of clover in the sward will give better lamb performance in mid to late summer.  Clover can also increase lamb gain.  Sheep select for clover in their diet, so there can be an increase in daily gain of 50g/day over grass swards.  However, this is not always a cheap option due to the high initial costs of establishment and seed costs.

Forage-based diets may prevent excess carcass fat in heavy lambs while producing similar muscle development, resulting in a leaner product.

Recent studies in New Zealand and the UK have shown that certain forages reduce parasitic infection in sheep.  Legume forages have the potential to contribute to the control of abomasal nematodes in finishing lambs.  Lambs grazing chicory had increased performance and reduced gastro-intestinal infection compared with those grazing grass.

Creep feeding

Creep feeding can boost lamb performance early in the season.  Best results are obtained when grazing pressure is high, restricting grass availability, forcing lambs to eat creep.  Offered ad lib, lambs will eat 40-50 kg of creep and finish quicker.

The inclusion of sugarbeet pulp in cereal-based diets for fattening lambs seems to enhance the ruminal environment and prevent acidosis, but has no positives effects on feed intake or animal performance.

Also, when lambs were supplied with creep whilst suckling ewes, there was little or no effect of weaning on the performance of lambs.

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