Friday 30 September 2016

Sheep: Drafting lambs now is a better bet than waiting until July

John Fagan

Published 08/06/2016 | 02:30

Farmer Derick Beattie, Coolroe, Tinahely, Co Wicklow as one lively ewe makes her way back to the flock after a good shearing. Photo: Roger Jones.
Farmer Derick Beattie, Coolroe, Tinahely, Co Wicklow as one lively ewe makes her way back to the flock after a good shearing. Photo: Roger Jones.

The first of June has come and gone. For me this date is the day the weight of worrying about grass and the woes of spring are lifted from my shoulders.

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The heifers, ewes and lambs are happily grazing in the fields. My priority at the moment is to keep the lambs constantly grazing leafy grass and moving them from field to field over the farm, gradually closing fields that are getting too far ahead for silage later in June.

You can expect lambs to put on anything from 250 to 300gm per day at this time of year. They need good quality grass to achieve this level of weight gain and I aim to starting drafting lambs towards the middle of June.

I conducted a faecal egg count on the lambs to sample the level of parasite burden which came back fairly clean. It's not something I would do normally but I got into it since being part of the STAP discussion group. Its really helpful and it's really easy to do.

The lambs have been doing well although I lost a few with pneumonia. Most years you find the odd dead one in the field and generally I would pass no remarks and put it down as one of those things.

But this year it has been a lot more prevalent than usual. It happened more so with the hoggets' lambs so there must be an issue there with immunity being passed from mother to lamb. I don't vaccinate for pneumonia and perhaps it is something that I should consider for ewe lambs in the future. I also think it was down to the changeable weather we had in April and early May which brought it on.

I'll be watching the lamb price over the next while. Last year the factories pulled the price a week earlier than usual. Going by price at this time of year I would try to draft lambs from 38 kilos upwards. As long as you are hitting the €100 mark, you are better off to take it now for a 38kg lamb than waiting till they are 45kg in mid or late July before you can get a similar price.

I weighed some of the pet lambs and they are doing well. I still have them inside on meal only. I feed them in troughs daily as well as that they have ad lib access to ration. They are doing a lot better than last year. Going by how they weighed I reckon the majority of them will be finished by the end of June.

The department's extension of the sowing date for the wild bird cover for GLAS was a welcome result. I have sprayed off the ground I have earmarked for this and I should get it sown any day now. I have fenced off corners of the field for the bee boxes and I have the bird and bat boxes up and running. GLAS is a good scheme, judging by the uptake it is clear that farmers are keen and it will achieve a lot of good for the environment. It could do with being up on the same pay levels as the old REPs scheme but it is a step in the right direction.

The news that there will be a €25m scheme for sheep farmers is a welcome boost to the sheep industry. One part of me is fearful that it could result in an over supply of lamb leading to a reduction in lamb price but as somebody said to me it is doubtful that people will rush into sheep for a €10 payment per head.

It's hard to know. I anticipate that there will be conditions to being in it and I hope that they advocate efficient sustainable and profitable sheep farming that ultimately yields long-term benefits to sheep farming in Ireland.

Contract rearing

The contract-reared dairy heifers are doing well. I had a busy two weeks in May with AI and heat detection, but it went well and they are thriving and on target. This years' calves are now gradually arriving on the farm and so begins the second year of the contract. Rearing dairy heifers really suits my farm. It goes well with sheep and getting paid once a month is a welcome boost to cashflow. I would really recommend sheep farmers to investigate this system as done properly, it is a win win situation.

Over the next month with the weather the way it is, the big job on the agenda for me is shearing. I like to get it out of the way as soon as possible. We usually get it done in one day depending on the weather. I am watching out for flystrike and I have had problems with ewes getting stuck on their backs which means that I have to check them regularly.

Shearing sorts this out and takes the pressure off. I will dip the lambs using a sheep shower. I did this last year and I found it cheap and effective and stress free. I use an non OP dip and the shower system is very safe to use. I expect to be cutting silage towards the end of June.

It is later than usual but I closed off my silage fields later than usual because of the late spring. I will also keep an eye to making some haylage as well. I find that haylage is a quality fodder for sheep and is never a waste of money to make.

Finally, and most importantly, I will be keeping a close eye on lamb thrive waiting for the opportunity to get off the mark and clear the first big draft of the year and pay a few bills.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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