Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 October 2017

Is now the time to introduce meal, and how much?

It is hard to believe that this time last year we had a lot of grass with a few paddocks being cut for silage bales.

This year is the complete opposite, with ground conditions so poor that we had to transport our last 150 bales of silage from the field using a tractor with a lifter carrying two bales each time.

It may have been a lot slower than using a trailer but as the distance to where we stack the bales was not too far it worked out well.

Now with everything baled we have cattle slurry to spread but ground is to wet to travel on.

Grass growth is still very slow so our lamb thrive is also back, with only 25pc of lambs gone for slaughter.

The question is: do we feed meal and how much? If all lambs are going to be kept for slaughter I think meal will have to be introduced now. I know it is going to be expensive, a bulk ration high in energy will cost about €320/t.

So if I feed 0.4kg per lamb for two months the lamb will eat 24kg which will cost nearly €8.

This only covers the meal cost, nothing for the extra work and time involved in feeding and moving troughs. I would need an extra €10 per lamb or 20c/kg on a 20kg carcase to cover my costs.

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Now do not get me wrong, sometimes we have to spend extra just to keep lambs moving off farm.

My plan is to pick off all lambs 38kg and above. We will feed these meal and the best grass available. The ewes will graze off behind them.

The later smaller lambs will get 0.2kg and probably be sold as stores later in the year if the price is right. I need to get lambs thriving so I will have grass for ewes as mating time is only six weeks away.

All ewes have been shorn, just the ewe lambs are left. We got two dry days, put them all in the shed and gave them some silage, with no ewes let out again until shorn. The only cost saving this year has been that no fly strike prevention has been needed.

All ewes, replacement ewe lambs and any lambs not fit for slaughter by the end of September will be dipped. We have no problem with scab but lice can cause irritation and weight loss to pregnant ewes, especially when housed. We find that dipping once per year keeps the lice away.

The ewes have been divided into two groups with the thinner ones and hoggets getting the better grass. The other group follow behind the lambs. Having weaned early, the ewes are in good condition.

We also culled the older ewes as we had 200 hoggets to come into the main flock, which gave us a replacement rate of nearly 30pc.

The other dilemma at the moment is will we get a chance to spread some fertiliser. We have some land that is too waterlogged and even if you could drive on it I do not think there would be any response. We will spread only on the drier land.


This will reduce our grass for later in the year and probably mean an early winter.

Ewes housed earlier will mean more straw and silage so all last year's extra feed will be needed. I will purchase extra straw.

I am going to the ICBF organised ram sale in Tullamore next Saturday as I need to purchase a couple of new rams.

Last year I purchased three texal lambs now one and half years old, they do not look spectacular but their lambs are good quality and have grown well.

The rams have to be fit and healthy. Their feet have been checked, they have been given a fluke and worm dose, have been put on good grass and are getting some meal to build them up for their annual six weeks' work.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary. Email:

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