With spring just around the corner, my preparation for the lambing season has begun. All of the lambing sheds have been power-hosed and disinfected, penning has been assembled and adoption crates and infrared lamps resurrected.
With the lambing of our pedigree Blue-faced Leicester ewes just weeks away, I wait in anticipation to see what this year's lambing season will bring.
I hope that the investment and breeding decisions of last autumn will pay off and lambing will pass with as little trouble as possible.
The scanning of the ewes took place on December 28. I am quite pleased with the results, since reports around the country showed that early lambing flocks scanned 0.2-0.3 of a lamb less than last year.
My flock scanned on a par with last year. The Mule ewes scanned 1.93 lambs per ewe and the Blackface Mountain ewes 1.56 lambs per ewe. There were 12 barren ewes, equating to about 4pc of the flock.
A Blackface ram was running with these ewes up until scanning, so I expect the majority of these to be in lamb when we re-scan in February.
I find the scanning results useful for separating the singles, twins and triplet-bearing ewes and feeding them accordingly. I use records of when I changed the raddle marking of the ram to allow me to begin feeding the ewes eight weeks before lambing.
I do this to fuel the big increase in foetal growth that occurs during this period. I believe that this ensures a healthy and vigorous lamb at birth, and that ewes will have a good supply of colostrum after lambing.
The March lambing Blackface ewes are all outdoors and the twin-bearing ewes have been supplied with high energy feed buckets (13MJ ME/kg).
The ewes will have access to these until they commence concentrate feeding in the lead-up to lambing.
All of this means that the ewes are fed on an increasing plain of nutrition up to 0.8kg/day at lambing.
Since the Mule ewes are due to lamb in February, they were housed on straw-bedded pens on January 4.
The housed ewes are on hay, which I have opted to use over silage. I find that feeding hay to ewes indoors keeps bedding drier and cleaner. It can also reduce the amount of bedding needed. The Mule ewes are currently on 0.5kg/day of a 16pc crude protein ration which is a four-way mix of 25pc barley, 25pc ground maize, 25pc distillers and 25pc soya bean hulls.
They will be changed to an 18pc protein ration for the last four weeks of gestation.
I am still undecided as to where I am going to purchase the higher protein feed. One of the things that I'll be insisting on is the inclusion rate of the feed's ingredients.
The descending order which is provided does not give a true reflection of quality. With the increase in feed costs, I believe that farmers should be aware of exactly what they are feeding.
So far, I have received prices from several different feed mills. Bulk feed this time last year cost around €270/t.
This year, prices have risen by more than 7c/kg to €340/t. The price of feeding a ewe carrying a single lamb will cost €3 more than last year, while a twin-bearing ewe will cost up to €5 more than 2012 to feed.
The silage quality on the farm is not as good as other years which will also lead to increased feed requirements to maintain performance at the same level as previous years.
Despite all this, I will continue to feed the ewes at their required level. I worry that if I reduce the feeding level of the ewes I may have more problems with the likes of twin lamb disease and weak lambs.
These problems could prove more costly in the long run. Weaker lambs would have slower growth rates and be on the farm longer.
With additional costs such as feeding this spring, let's hope for favourable weather conditions and good grass growth.
Tom Staunton runs a flock of 350 ewes on 55ha on the shores of Lough Mask at Tournakeady, Co Mayo