Farm Ireland

Thursday 27 July 2017

Low repeat rates essential for compact lambing

The majority of the Blackface ewes are covered at this stage to both the Lanark ram and the Bluefaced Leicester rams. All of the Mule ewes have been covered by the Beltex ram and we have had only one repeat. I hope this trend continues with the rest of the flock.

I find it much easier to manage ewes lambing in spring when the lambing is condensed and compact. The ewes that come into oestrus again after being served spread out the lambing period, making it more difficult to manage lambs in different groups.

I use raddle as an aid to reduce the spread of lambing and if I see an unusual number of repeats I take action by changing rams. Because of this, it is important to have sufficient ram cover on the farm for the entire mating season.

This week I sold 26 lambs through the South Mayo Lamb Producer Group. At this stage I don't know how they performed, but I imagine they will be on par with the last batch. I expect them to reach carcass weights of 20-21kg and grade mostly R3, with perhaps some U3s.

The remainder of the lambs on the farm will be housed this week and fed on a high concentrate diet. With little or no growth and scarce grass supply, it is unlikely that pasture will be able to provide enough nutrient requirements for the lambs to put on sufficient flesh for slaughter. The lambs are currently receiving concentrates and the same ration will be fed to them indoors.

Last week I checked all the water bowls to ensure they were clean and in good working order as a good supply of water is important for sheep indoors and on high concentrate diets. The amount of creep in the lambs' diet will be increased gradually over a week and then the lambs will be fed ad libitum until they reach target slaughter weight of about 45-47kg.

As the weather gets colder and more harsh, lambs won't have to worry about finding shelter. I expect that they should thrive just as well, if not better, inside. The fields can also be closed off to ensure that there is enough regrowth of grass at lambing time.

The pedigree Bluefaced Leicester ewes that were artificially inseminated have now completed two full cycles, with only six of the 25 repeating. Three of these were served with frozen semen and the success rate is about what is to be expected with frozen semen in sheep. The ewes that were inseminated with fresh semen had an 87pc success rate, which is quite good. Hopefully no further repeats will occur and all these ewes will lamb down good healthy lambs.

I travelled to the Bluefaced Leicester sale in Carlisle on October 12. This is one of the top three sales for the breed, with over 800 sheep on offer. These included shearling rams, ewes and ewe lambs, as well as over 500 ram lambs.

All the best flocks were there and it was a great opportunity for me to see the standard of the stock on offer and compare my own to them.

The journey over was not ideal as we travelled back and over in the one day. I travelled to Larne in Northern Ireland and got the boat over to Stranraer. I then drove through the Scottish countryside down to Cumbria and into Carlisle in the north of England. Despite the long journey, it was an enjoyable day as I saw some great stock and I can now put faces to the names of the best Bluefaced Leicester producers.

The livestock mart is private ly owned by Harrison and Hetherington and the sale ran like clockwork, with three rings operating at the one time.

The auctioneers were young and enthusiastic men in their early twenties and were very efficient with the throughput of sheep.

I was surprised to see so many families involved in preparing and selling the sheep. The people in the sales yard were quite different to those seen in Irish marts, with many grandparents and grandchildren and a large number of women present. It was great to see such an interest from both young and old.

The champion ram on the day sold for £7,500 (€9,337) and the top priced ram reached £8,000 (€9,959). Both were ram lambs. These were breeders' rams and would be used on purebred ewes.

After the busy and enjoyable day, it was a long journey back to Mayo. I think if I go again I will probably stay over to make the whole trip more relaxing. I can now go about setting a benchmark for my own stock and try to keep improving in the years to come.

Tom Staunton, Shanvallyard, Tourmakeady, Co Mayo. Email:

Indo Farming