Farm Ireland

Friday 21 July 2017

Factories too quick to penalise for fat lambs

Priority: Getting the flock ready for the breeding season
Priority: Getting the flock ready for the breeding season
John Fagan

John Fagan

The priority for me in September is to get the flock ready for the breeding season and offload as much stock as possible in the run up to the winter.

You need to do this as the grass growing season draws to an end.

Building up a bulk of grass going into winter extends the grazing season, reduces costs and leaves your grassland in good shape for next spring.

I have covered nearly all the farm with a bag of fertiliser to the acre. Not too much, but enough to keep it ticking over.

Some farmers import slurry. While this is a cheaper option, slurry can be inconsistent in terms of its nutrient content, so it can become an expensive hobby driving up and down a field spreading what can often be more more than dirty water.

Lambs are thriving well and I have 75pc of my lambs drafted at this stage. It has been a really good year for lamb thrive.

It's hard to put my finger on what exactly I have done but I think a combination of better grassland management and a sheep friendly summer has helped them along the way.

I hear factories complaining that lambs are showing up under-fleshed. The kill-out weight for lambs is now at 22kg. I've found that it takes a serious lamb to get into that weight but it is nevertheless possible for every lamb to achieve this.

You need to weigh lambs prior to slaughter and a good rule of thumb is that if you can feel the spine of the lamb when you place your hand on its back, then the lamb isn't fit to be killed.

The last bunch of lambs that I killed were all ewe lambs, with an average weight of 47kg and an average carcase weight of 21.3kg or a 45pc kill-out. This shows that I could have gone a bit higher in liveweights when drafting and earned an extra €3 per head.

Letting your lambs off too light is losing money. As much as I like to complain about the price, if you sell lambs under-fleshed you can forget about reaching the €100 mark.

At the same time, factories shouldn't be so quick to penalise farmers for over-fat lambs as it is difficult for farmers to draft lambs every day and not everyone has a factory on their doorstep.

I continue to monitor the condition of the breeding flock and I've culled ewes that are either too old or are losing condition.

With a large number of sheep, it is important to keep your flock young and I would replace roughly 20 to 25pc of the flock each year.

The whole flock has been dipped, foot bathed and dosed with minerals and I continuously check them for any ailments that might hamper their breeding such as lameness of poor thrive.

I took a trip over to Maam Cross and Ballinrobe to stock up on some mule ewe lambs. I hadn't been down there in a couple of years as I had been largely retaining my own mule cross ewe lambs as replacements.

It is a credit to the mule breeders there how they have developed their niche market.

The mule ewe really suits lowland sheep farmers and for anyone starting off a flock, you could do worse than picking up a few mules from which to start it from.

All ewe lambs were shorn on return. Shearing them helps them to thrive better and gives them a better chance of breeding this year.

Breeding ewe lambs is a tricky business. You need to get them to roughly 45 to 50kg liveweight by November. Otherwise they are just too small for breeding in their first year.

I keep the new mule ewe lambs isolated for about a month or so from my own ewe lambs and always foot bath them upon arrival.

This hopefully will reduce the risk of carrying in and spreading any other problems from other farms.

John Fagan is a sheep farmer from Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

Next up...

Over the next week, I hope to foot bath all my ewes and I will vaccinate all the ewe lambs and last years hoggets for toxoplasmosis. I had a problem with it last spring and I have decided to vaccinate for it from now on.

By treating the replacements each year the whole flock will eventually be protected.

I could treat the whole flock but it is prohibitively expensive to do.

It's a risk I'm prepared to take as the older ewes are likely to have been exposed to it and are therefore immune.

Indo Farming

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