Monday 26 September 2016

Sheep: An ounce of breeding really is worth a tonne of feeding

Tom Staunton

Published 25/11/2015 | 02:30

Some of the ram lambs that were on show at the recent South of Ireland Blueface Leicester Sale in Ballinrobe. Photo: Conor McKeown.
Some of the ram lambs that were on show at the recent South of Ireland Blueface Leicester Sale in Ballinrobe. Photo: Conor McKeown.

There is no doubt but that winter has definitely arrived. The wet and windy spell has ensured ground conditions have deteriorated quite swiftly on the farm over the past number of weeks.

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The breeding season was kind to ewes and rams weather-wise.

The rams are nearly redundant at this stage of the year and will soon be taken up and given time to recover and regain body condition lost over the mating period.

There are very few repeats at this stage and many of the ewes were covered over a three to four week period. If all goes well, we should have an intense few weeks of lambing in the springtime.

The grass growth was better than expected for the last few months and this has left good covers of grass for ewes for the winter. All of our ewes will be wintered outdoors and the Bluefaced Leicesters will be housed a few weeks before lambing.

Fields have been closed off and saved for spring grazing. The better sheltered fields are saved as these will give good shelter to ewes and lambs in spring.

It is tempting to graze these fields again but I know that the grass will be more valuable to me for ewes and lambs that will need the protection for outdoor lambing.

The Pedigree Bluefaced Leicester ewes will be scanned shortly. It seems that 75pc of ewes AI'd to frozen semen have not repeated.

Bloodlines

I am delighted if this is the case as this would be a good result for frozen semen but the scanning will give a better picture and will give us the facts.

Since we have begun using frozen semen from the best bloodlines in the breed, it has been obvious to us that our sheep have improved. Investing in proven rams is one of our strategies at improving our flock.

The real test of a Bluefaced Leicester ram is how well he can breed - what type of Mule he can produce. Can he produce a Mule ewe that has good milking ability? A Mule ewe that has longevity, is prolific and can rear two good quality lambs year on year with little trouble? That is our test of how good a ram is.

On the flip side of the coin is the quality of the Blackface ewe.

The ram can only do his part, therefore it is important to us to have good quality Blackface ewes to breed the Mule.

Time and effort has to be put into improving both the Bluefaced Leicesters and the Blackfaces to give the best results and that is what we are trying to do on our farm.

Good recording of both the ewes and the rams that are performing is essential.

Simple practices such as tagging ewes that are rearing well and using these to breed replacements and the same for ewes that aren't performing well can also work.

We are also recording the Bluefaced Leicesters for Sheep Ireland's Lambplus. We haven't used the figures from this to its full potential yet.

Partly due to the fact that it's only in the early stages for us, over time this will improve and will also become useful for both us and other farmers in selecting rams for breeding.

AI and embryo transfer have a place in improving flocks and speeding up the rate at which the flock is improved.

The breeding and genetics of sheep can be improved to give more productive and profitable sheep. It is not an easy process but hopefully persistence will pay off. I am a firm believer in the old saying 'An ounce of breeding is worth a tonne of feeding'.

My week ahead

The month ahead will see a lot of small jobs being done around the yard. Fixing up bits of fences and so on. The scanning of the ewes will be organised, a plan put in place for the lambing sheds and the feed possibilities for the coming year will be assessed.

Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

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