Saturday 1 October 2016

Sheep: Ewe lambs came through their first season with flying colours

John Large

Published 22/04/2015 | 02:30

Only 13 ewes are left to lamb on the farm of John Large
Only 13 ewes are left to lamb on the farm of John Large

Lambing is all but finished with only 13 ewes left to lamb. The ewe-lambs gave very few problems with nearly all of them lambing by themselves and most taking to mothering the lambs. The ones that had twins were no bother but a few of them are finding the going tough to rear two lambs.

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All the ewe-lambs are in one group and being fed 0.5kg of nuts per day in one feed. Their lambs have access to a creep-feeder but are not eating much yet.

When they are consuming nearly 250g per head per day we will cut back on the meal to their mothers and stop completely on May 1.

We will wean these lambs at 12 weeks to give their mothers plenty of recovery time before mating in October.

The repeat ewes lambed well, and with plenty of room in the sheds we were able to keep them inside for a week after lambing. This was a great addition when the days were so windy and wet and during the frosty nights. They are all outside now on grass only, having been fed 0.5kg for two weeks after turnout.

With very poor grass growth in March we fed all the twin ewes outside from St Patrick's Day until the middle of April. We used the same ration that they were on before lambing and then changed to a 18pc protein nut from our local co-op. This was fed at 0.5kg per day, which allowed the ewes to produce enough milk.

Since then the grass has started to grow and the lambs are starting to thrive. There is nothing better than watching groups of lambs running and playing in the evening sun, since this is a sure sign that they have enough to eat.

The singles got no meal and once they were lambed they were moved to the out-farm where they had enough grass. The late spring also saw fertiliser spreading delayed. We did not spread any until March 20 at a rate of two bags of 27-2.5-5 per acre.

The exception were the fields that were full of ewes and lambs that got 18-6-12 on April 4 at 2.5 bags per acre. Fields not grazed before they got fertiliser gave a better response. I do not think earlier spreading would have made any difference when ground temperatures were so low.

We have ewes and lambs in two main groups of 170 moving through 4ac paddocks every third day. There's a creep feeder in with another group of 50 ewes, mostly older and problem ones due for culling. This gives the lambs 300g of meal per day. We purchased a good creep blend and bulked it up with rolled barley to give a 50:50 mix.

Our grassland management program for this year will be different. Like most people we have a lot of fodder (both silage and hay) left since last year. We do not need to grow as much grass, but it can be often harder to keep grass quality good without some artificial nitrogen.

The main thing is to graze out well from now until weaning using creep-gate access for the lambs into the next paddock to allow them the best of the grass ahead of the ewes. We will cut any paddocks that go too strong for grazing.

Hopefully we can manage grass performance without creating a big meal or fertiliser bill.

We will re-seed at least 20ac in early May to have this ready for grazing by weaned lambs in late June. The difference between fields re-seeded in the last few years and ones that were re-seeded 15 years ago is huge in terms of both the amount of grass grown and the quality of the grass.

Even this year with a late spring the newer pastures produced way more feed and responded better to fertiliser. So to grow more grass earlier and later in the year you must re-seed every 10 years. We will sow 1.5kg Typhon per acre in all the new grass fields except one that has a persistent dock problem.

With no Typhon in the mix we can spray for docks early at their cotyledon stage, which seems to be the best way of controlling docks.

All the lambs born in early March will receive a worm dose and foot-bath next week, as some are starting to show signs of scald and odd ones are getting dirty tail-ends. Most of them will be at least six weeks old and need their first dose at this stage. We will use either a white drench or a levamisole-type dose. We have plenty to keep us going until at least next month.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary

jlarge@ independent.ie

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