Wednesday 28 September 2016

Sheep: December's downpours are posing grazing system issues

Tommy Boland

Published 16/12/2015 | 02:30

Farmer Michael Macken with bales of hay he tied together to prevent them from floating on River Shannon floodwaters at Carrickobrien near Athlone. Photo: Frank Mc Grath.
Farmer Michael Macken with bales of hay he tied together to prevent them from floating on River Shannon floodwaters at Carrickobrien near Athlone. Photo: Frank Mc Grath.

Grass growth on the hill ground has fallen to 7 kg drymatter (DM) per hectare in the past week and the majority of this ground is now closed.

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With the synchronised lambing carried out at Lyons, our demand in spring time is 'switched on' rather rapidly with up to 85pc of the ewes lambing and being turned out in the space of a week.

Our objective is to offer a grass-only diet after turnout. Recent research from Frank Campion would indicate that where ample good quality grazed grass is on offer, there is no benefit in offering concentrate supplementation at a rate of 500g per day.

However, Frank's work also shows that 'wet' grass can reduce grass drymatter intake by 20pc.

Additional work by Brian Garry shows that as the moisture content in grass increases, the animals ability to digest, or extract the energy from that grass also decreases.

So in prolonged wet conditions, the animal is consuming less energy, and the energy that is consumed is not being used as efficiently.

In these circumstances concentrate supplementation is required to maintain animal performance.

Rams have been removed from the ewes and ewe lambs, and we await the scanning results in early January.

At the moment the majority of the ewes are grazing forage rape, set after the winter cereal harvest.

The very wet weather of recent days and weeks is presenting a challenge in terms of grazing and utilisation of this crop, and is placing a bit of extra pressure on the system.

Ewes will be housed early in the New Year when weather conditions allow, and winter shearing will take place in the second week of January.

Winter shearing brings benefits in terms of increased lamb birth-weight; easier observation at lambing time; and it makes it easier to monitor animal condition.

A minimum of eight weeks wool regrowth is required before animals are turned out.

The final 23 lambs are not housed and are building up to an ad lib concentrate diet. Lamb price is reasonably good at the moment but as meal feeding levels are increased at this time of the year margins remain tight.

Mineral analysis

We examined the silage analysis results before housing. Our first cut silage which will be offered to the ewes in late pregnancy is both high in drymatter digestibility (DMD) at 77pc, and high in protein at 15.1pc.

This will greatly reduce concentrate feed requirements compared to average quality silage.

A mineral analysis was also carried out. Both iron and molybdenum are present at high concentrations.

These elements can reduce copper availability so we will need to plan accordingly for this. Copper is required by livestock and deficiency can cause severe problems.

Copper is of particular concern with sheep due to the fact that sheep are particularly susceptible to copper toxicity, much more so than cattle are.

But when antagonists like iron and molybdenum are present we need to ensure that enough available copper is present to meet the animal's requirements.

As we have just closed the 'farmlets' involved in the multi-species grazing study the analysis of this data can start in earnest.

Connie Grace will be focussed on drawing this information together, seeing where the major responses were and fine tuning the plans for next year's grazing trial.

I have highlighted some of the promising results we recorded throughout the year, but as with any grazing work it needs to be repeated across a number of years to see if the performance holds up.

However, initial outcomes are positive for the mutli- species swards.

As this is my last article of the year, I would like to take the opportunity firstly to welcome Michael Ronayne on board as a new member of the farm staff working in Lyons and especially on the sheep team.

Also I wish everybody a happy and safe Christmas and look forward to an exciting New Year.

Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production and is based at UCD's Lyons Research Farm email: tommy.boland@ucd.ie

Next up

The final lambs will be sold in the next three to four weeks as we try not to have these hanging around when the ewes are being housed. We're doing the routine maintenance on drinkers and mending gates and feed barriers in the sheep shed before the ewes come in. Grazing conditions on the forage rape will be monitored closely as the recent heavy rainfall have made underfoot conditions very difficult.

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