March weather took its toll in lamb mortality
Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30
The lambing season is all over apart from a few ewe lambs that were bred to a Lanark ram. We checked a batch of ewes that had shown up as zeros at scanning and 10 of these were in lamb. This left us with very few barren ewes this year.
These later-lambing ewes were running with a Lanark type Blackface ram until the middle of January and perhaps a few replacement ewe lambs will come as the result of this.
The lambing season had its ups and downs.
The weather as always played its part and has provided us with challenges along the way.
It is difficult to pick a lambing date to coincide with some drier and warmer weather.
There was one good week in the middle of March but this fell between weeks of rain and cold.
Some lambs were lost as a result of the bad weather. This occurred with a few wet, windy and cold nights.
The few lambs that fell victim were at least a week old. One thing the lambs that died had in common was that they were in fields that had a wire fence.
This meant that shelter was limited and lambs were more exposed to the elements than the lambs in fields with stone walls and hedges. The saved grass that was available to the ewes is coming to an end as very little regrowth has occurred.
This has meant that meal feeding has had to be continued in order ensure ewes have enough to eat so that they can continue to supply the lambs with plenty of milk.
There is only one batch of ewes off meal at this stage - I hope that once the temperatures rise it will allow me to stop feeding meals with onset of good grass growth.
Fertiliser has been spread on saved ground and on fields that have had one grazing.
The Bluefaced Leicester ewes are at grass and I took the decision to stop feeding a ewe-and-lamb nut to them. I replaced this with a coarse ration that is often used for fattening lambs and have added some soya bean meal to increase the protein content.
The reason that this was done is because the Bluefaced Leicester lambs have started eating with the ewes at the trough and I was worried about the ram lambs getting urinary calculi from the nuts that have a high calcium and magnesium content compared with a fattening ration.
Urinary calculi is caused by the formation of small stones in the urinary tract that cause retention of urine and rupture of the urinary bladder or urethra.
This causes a lot of pain and discomfort to lambs and the lamb can become useless for mating later in his life. I think it is better to be safe than sorry.
The lambs have grown well to date and I don't want to upset this.
Meal feeding of lambs in general has not begun yet and I am still undecided on what ration I will feed this year. I will see later what feeds are on offer this year. I believe that it is important to select a high energy ration, with good quality ingredients and one that is good value. If the ration is slightly more expensive but is providing the growth rates I don't mind paying that little bit more.
I have a target for all my Mule ewe lambs to be a minimum of 45kg at sale time at the end of August. This will enable lambs to breed in their first year.
For this to be achieved, assuming on average a 5kg birth weight and an average date of birth as of March 22, lambs will have to grow 250g/hd/day from birth to sale time to achieve this target. This is a tough but achievable goal. Growth rates will be highest before weaning and will decline after this.
Lambs are at their most efficient at converting feed at a young age. I hope that a large proportion of my ewe lambs will be over the target at the time of sale and are good and strong for breeding in their first year.
Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo.