Tuesday 27 September 2016

Grazing dilemma - high growth rates cause management issues

Grass management has become an issue in recent weeks for sheep farmers in the west

Tom Coll

Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30

Clifford Richardson on the family farm where the weaned lambs have been grazing the best grass since July 1.
Clifford Richardson on the family farm where the weaned lambs have been grazing the best grass since July 1.

High grass growth rates in early June has made grazing management difficult to control on the Richardson farm at Carrigallen in Co Leitrim.

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In the last fortnight, as a result of the current relatively low stocking rate, a lot of paddocks have become too strong for grazing and covers are in excess of 10cm.

Weather and ground conditions have not been favourable for removing excess grass as round bales.

Clifford plans to remove paddocks with high covers as soon as weather and ground conditions allow.

"My aim now is to make high quality silage and to have an adequate supply of good quality after-grass for finishing lambs and to get ewes into adequate body condition prior to mating,'' says Clifford.

He weaned lambs from the ewes on July 1. Lambs weaned per ewe put to the ram was good at 1.65 - which does not take account of 13 lambs sold as pets prior to weaning.

Ewes were highly stocked on a bare paddock for a week to dry them off.

Weaning will reduce the flock demand and allow the lambs to be selective and graze the best grass available on the farm. Lambs will graze the paddocks ahead of the ewes going into covers of 8-9cm or 1,000-1,250kg DM/ha.

This will allow the plant to maximise growth while still maintaining a high percentage of leaf for the grazing lambs.

The lambs will leave the paddock at 5.5-6cm and ewes will come in and graze down to 4cm.

This will supply adequate grass for the dry ewe and maintaining grass quality for subsequent grazing by the lambs.

Clifford is aware that the longer period spent grazing each paddock by the lambs - and then the ewes - will slow grass growth rates.

However, at existing stocking rates Clifford does not see this as a problem and he hopes it will eliminate the need to top paddocks and maximise the use of grass grown on the farm.

The weeks and, on some farms, the months after weaning are often when ewes are forgotten about. This is not the case on the Richardson farm.

He says the week after weaning is an ideal time to assess ewes for culling and identify ewes that will need special immediate attention as regards lameness problems and body condition.

The ewes that have produced the heaviest lambs at weaning are often in the poorest body condition.

These ewes have obviously worked hard over the lactation period and need special care over the summer months to get them fit for mating.

They are not the ones you would want to cull but may have to be culled if not managed properly prior to mating. Clifford says that based on previous years experience he finds it quite easy to improve the body condition of the Lleyn ewe.

Lambs will be faecal-sampled to determine the dosing requirement over the summer months. All lambs are given a bolus containing copper, selenium and cobalt at weaning.

He is using two different rams on the farm with two very different EuroStar ratings. Clifford carried out his latest lamb weighing on July 1.

The summary of this weight data is outlined in the table above and illustrates that the higher index ram being used by Clifford is out-performing the lower index ram in terms of lamb growth rate.

Eamon Wall of Sheep Ireland says the key message for farmers is that this increased animal performance is permanent and can be built on further by making targeting breeding decisions in the future.

"For example, if Clifford retains replacement females from his higher performing ram, these ewes will retain the higher performing genetics. This not only applies to growth rate but all important production traits.

"Looking at Clifford's two performance-recorded Lleyn rams, the difference in lambing performance between the high and low index ram is quite stark.

"His lower index ram had a higher level of lambing difficulty and lamb mortality."

Tom Coll is a Teagasc drystock and business advisor based in Mohill, Co Leitrim

The Richardson flock at a glance

Clifford Richardson farms near Carrigallen on the Leitrim/Cavan border.

He began farming in 2012 and has established a flock of 80 pedigree Lleyn ewes lambing in mid-February.

The breed is well known for ease of care and prolificacy.

This year ewes scanned with a litter size of 1.97 with 94pc of the ewes in lamb.

Clifford is a participant in the Sheep Ireland flock performance recording system LambPlus.

Lambs are electronically tagged and weighed at birth and lambing data recorded. They are then weighed at eight weeks and at weaning. Top performing ram lambs are sold for breeding.

Clifford’s three year plan aims to increase ewe numbers, reduce labour and generate a gross margin of at least €80 a ewe.

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