Rotational grazing is critical for early grass
The cold blast in December took its toll on both breeding ewes and fattening hoggets that were still outdoors. According to owners, the outdoor sheep quickly lost condition, especially those that were carrying fluke.
Sheep will dig into snow for grass and fodder but the depth of snow and the severity of last month's freeze made supplementary feeding vital, provided you were able to reach the sheep with the feeding. In Wicklow, the challenge for the hill sheep farmers was to find all their sheep after the first heavy snow.
For those who planned to out-winter sheep on catch crops, the fodder rape took a battering but has kept the leaves better than kale. The swede turnips have survived best of all. No wonder the Scots, who are used to cold winters, remain loyal to the swede turnip.
With the housed sheep in December, water was an issue for a few days. I would have thought that winter shearing of the ewes might have been cancelled during the freeze up, but not so, according to George Graham in Wexford.
The All-Ireland shearing expert continued to shear ewes during the minus temperatures but he was selective in the flocks he worked with. He only shore ewes that were in strong condition and were bedded on deep, dry straw. He said that the shorn ewes quickly adjusted.
The greatest losses I ever saw post-shearing occurred in hill sheep that were shorn in one very wet June. The shorn ewes, still rearing their lambs, were immediately hit with two days of continuous cold rain. About 100 of a 400-ewe flock died. Most of the rest fell away in milk yield. So ewe condition and post-shearing shelter against the elements are important factors in the timing of shearing.
Is it too late to shear housed ewes at this stage?