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Friday 9 December 2016

New approach is yielding dividends

In his last report of the year, John Cannon looks at how Michael Duffy has revamped the mating management strategy for his flock management

Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30

Michael Duffy pictured on his farm at Kerrykeel in Co Donegal
Michael Duffy pictured on his farm at Kerrykeel in Co Donegal

In our last report, we looked at how Michael Duffy, who farms in Kerrykeel on the Fanad Peninsula on Donegal, was planning a number of changes to the flock mating management strategy this year.

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He changed to September shearing, reduced the number of ewes mated from 340 to 300 ewes, bought in 35 ewe lamb replacements from two sources and kept 25 Belclare cross ewe lambs from his own flock.

"I opted to go all 'single sire' mating with 35-40 ewes going to each of the eight rams," explains Michael. "I have all my ewes electronically tagged so I'll be able to compare my rams based on lamb performance next year.

"I split the ram turnout dates by one week to try and even out the pressure at lambing time as I am using the 'ram effect' to get 90pc of the flock lambed in three weeks".

Michael put 50pc of the flock out in four groups with four rams on October 22. He turned out the remaining four rams on October 29 with four more groups of ewes. All rams were raddled with red raddle paste. After 18 days he rotated each group of four rams and changed the raddle colour to green.

According to Michael "there were 97pc-98pc of the ewes mated by day 18 which is great.

"I fed the rams every day during mating which makes topping up raddle paste or moving rams a simple operation".

Current grassland situation

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The weather for mating was quite good at least until November 20, but as grass is rapidly running out he will begin housing on December 1.

Apart from the ewe flock he currently has 300 bought in store lambs on grass on one of his out-farm blocks that will not be grazed in spring until late April or early May.

Michael has closed off 19.6ha. (48.5 acres) already this year and this will be rested until lambing.

He is following the approach adopted by Philip Creighton at the Teagasc Sheep Research farm in Athenry.

"I began closing off on October 25 and by October 314.7 ha. (11.5 acres) were closed; followed by 6.8ha. (17 acres) by November 11. 8.0ha. (20 acres) were closed on November 23.

"By the end of housing on December 7 I will have 34ha (84 ac) closed off which should see me through next spring until growth takes off in April," explained Michael. According to Philip Creighton it is the growth before Christmas that counts as growth from January 1 until lambing can be very disappointing.

The fields were grazed to 4cm prior to closing and on November 24 the fields closed on October 25 had 6.5cm of cover whereas those closed on October 16 had between 4.2 and 4.5cm of cover. Table 1 shows the closing off strategy adopted by Philip Creighton in Athenry.

Lamb Sales 2015

Table 2 is a monthly summary of his lamb sales in 2015. The setback in spring kept 2015 sales behind that of 2014 until September when the good weather gave a welcome boost to lamb performance, but as of November 23 they are still behind 2014 figures.

Purchased Store lambs

700 lambs have been purchased and of those 50 have been slaughtered. It has been more difficult to purchase store lambs this year since September.

This is due to a lower supply and higher store lamb price. 350 of those are currently indoors leaving approx 300 still out on grass. The recent lift in lamb price was a welcome relief.

Silage Analysis 2015

The results of two silage samples are contained in Table 3. Although the poor weather made both closing and cutting decisions very difficult, Michael was hoping that the silage would be of higher quality - above 70pc DMD.

The DMD's of 67 and 68 are a big drop from previous years. The low crude proteins (CP) of 8.0 and 8.3 are also disappointing. Silage for ewes should have a DMD of 75pc and a CP of 13pc.

"I am planning to feed 0.25kg./ewe of rolled barley from the start of housing this year to all ewes to prevent any slip in body condition scores (BCS) as happened last spring. I will check BCS scores every 10-14 days and adjust the feeding level accordingly," said Michael.

All the ewes have had their second Fluke Dose (Closantel). They were also given a Cobalt dose at the same time.

Upcoming tasks

Michael plans to do some soil sampling in early January and will review soil fertility levels when he gets the analysis results.

He will also do more weekly grass measurements in 2016 and is hoping to use the PastureBase programme as a tool to help him with grassland management.

John Cannon is a Teagasc business and technology advisor (drystock) based in Letterkenny

* The next Sheep Tech report will be from Sean Conway's farm in Sligo in the Farming independent of January 5 2016.

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