Thursday 29 September 2016

Autumn grass cover is the main priority for now

John Large

Published 21/09/2016 | 02:30

Now that grass growth is starting to slow down we are trying to build covers for October and November. With lamb sales continuing every two weeks, numbers are starting to decrease allowing more ground freed up for the ewes. This will help to get them ready for mating, which is due to start on October 15.

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The ewes are in three groups, good ewes cleaning up after the lambs, the next lot getting good grass, and a small group of ewes that are lame or thin - some of this group may be culled before mating if their condition does not improve.

When you look back over a grass-growing year there is a huge variation in the amount of grass grown in each field, with some paddocks producing twice as much grass as the poorest paddocks. Where some paddocks are grazed 10 times within the grazing season, the poorest ones are only being grazed five or six times. If we can identify these low-performing paddocks and put a plan in place to deal with them we will increase the performance of our farm.

Why these paddocks are not performing is possibly due to poor soil fertility, sward type may need to be reseeded, or it could be down to poor grazing management where the field size maybe too big and it is taking too many days to eat the grass. All that needs to be done here is sub-divided with a temporary fence.

One of my biggest issues is not having enough grass in spring to keep ewes fed from lambing in early March until grass starts to grow enough to match the ewes demand (called magic day).

For an early March lambing flock like ours, we should have a farm cover of between 600kg to 700kg grass dry matter per hectare or an average sward height of 6cm across the farm or 20-25 days ahead at turnout.

If we estimate the average grass growth rate of 15kg per hectare per day in early March this will add another 10 to 15 days, so we should have 35 to 40 days which should get us to mid-April and hopefully the magic day.

Live weight

As I said earlier, we are selling lambs every two weeks. They are killing out well at about 46pc, with 45kg live-weight killing out at 20.5kg.

The maximum pay weight increase to 22kg has helped in keeping the amount of free meat going to the factory to a minimum. Lambs are grading well, with 40pc grading U and a fat score of 3 on most lambs.

The meal seems to be working. I just hope now that with the Muslim festival kill coming to an end we will not see a price drop.

Department of Agriculture figures show there are 1pc more sheep killed for 2016.

This increase is due to more hoggets and cast ewes and rams, with lamb throughput lagging behind 2015 by 9pc. Let's hope if these lambs are out there, they do not arrive at the same time, but we will keep feeding and selling as they become fit. The longer lambs are on the farm the more they cost.

It's good news to see that the €10 premium for sheep farmers is moving along. The scheme will be based on the animal welfare measure in the Rural Development Programme, which allows for a payment per head.

The scheme will involve a number of welfare options, which the farmer will choose from to best suit their enterprise. In order to accommodate the maximum number of sheep farmers in the scheme we must keep the requirements simple with minimal cost to the farmer.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary.

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