'By having it ad-lib the lambs are never competing to get a feed'
Automatic lamb feeder
Published 17/02/2016 | 02:30
With 123 ewes producing triplets, and another 27 producing quads, the Mathews found that they were spending an increasing amount of their days looking after the surplus lambs.
"It doesn't matter how well set-up you are for fostering, if a triplet comes one day, and you have to wait for a day before a ewe with a single lambs, you're going to end up with pet lambs.
"You could spend hours trying to sell them on Donedeal, and another couple just mixing milk powder up for feeds. Even the ewes that were able to handle triplets had to be fed 2kg/day of meal for 4-6 weeks when they were turned out to grass. So none of it really made sense," said Richard, pictured right.
"We agonised over the feeder for a long time. They don't come cheap, and this one that can feed 180 lambs at a time cost about €3,000 plus VAT. We took the plunge last year and, while it's not perfect, I can't see us ever do without it again.
"It basically offers hot milk 24-7 for the lambs. By having it ad-lib, the lambs are never competing to get a feed. The design of it is also very good. The teats are recessed so that a lamb can suck away without getting pucked out of it.
"In addition, you can adjust the settings, including the temperature of the milk and the concentration of the powder in the mix. It only makes up enough to last a short while, and agitates the mix every couple of minutes to make sure there's no settlement.
"What we haven't got right yet is getting them weaned at an early enough age, so that they don't use up too much milk powder. We found it difficult to get them eating enough creep to wean them abruptly. So they were on the machine for six weeks, which was a week or two too long.
"You can also get lazy with the system, because the feeder just needs to be filled with powder twice a day, but we found that it was still important to herd the lambs each day.
"We finished all those lambs indoors because they'd just melt away if you put them out. They didn't die in debt, but if we can get them weaned younger, they'll be a lot more profitable."
The Mathews try to leave as many of the ewe lambs on the mothers, and rear the males on the machine.