Tuesday 27 September 2016

Sheep: Fine-tuning the breeding season essentials

Tom Staunton

Published 30/09/2015 | 02:30

Thomas Halloran takes part in the Sheep Shearing contest at the National Ploughing Championships. Photo: Conor Healy
Thomas Halloran takes part in the Sheep Shearing contest at the National Ploughing Championships. Photo: Conor Healy

With the breeding sales coming to a close for this year, the end of September marks the beginning of the breeding season for us.

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We finish the breeding sales with the Mayo Blackface sale and the Bluefaced Leicester Premier sale, both in Ballinrobe. The cycle begins again and both ewes and rams are prepared for the mating season.

All ewes on the farm are plunge dipped and dosed for fluke and given a mineral drench pre-mating. I do this before the season begins as I don't like disturbing the flock during the breeding season.

The flock is split into manageable groups for rams. The number of ewes per ram and the type of ewe per ram varies depending on the age of the ram but also on the characteristics the ram has to suit the ewes.

For example, ewes with more white are let with darker coloured rams and darker ewes are let with brighter rams in order to produce a more consistent coloured Mule ewe lamb.

It might seem like a lot of work but it does make a difference when selecting lambs for sale.

The Pedigree Bluefaced Leicester ewes are the first to be prepared as these will lamb at the end of February. These ewes are ready for AI and will be served with either fresh or some frozen semen that was purchased.

The progesterone impregnated sponges are removed at 12 days after insertion and ewes receive 400 IU of PMSG.

For the ewes that are served with frozen semen, the sponges have to be removed eight hours earlier than normal.

Frozen semen in sheep breeding isn't generally as successful as using fresh semen and this practice gives a better opportunity for success.

We were given a protocol to follow for the AI programme by Pro Star Genetics and it is very important to follow it strictly in order to get the best result possible. There is no point having the right rams, ewes and equipment and then being lazy and not follow the protocol.

Throughout the breeding season I will be keeping track of the rams at work and ensuring that they are healthy and that there are no injuries and that rams are proving fertile.

I find that this is critically important for any sheep production system.

Lambing percentages

I try to do as much as I can to improve ewe conception rates and lambing percentages and management at this time of year is a key part of this.

Rams are only needed this time of the year and it is important to have them in good shape at this time.

It is also important that farmers are vigilant and are not slow to act if they are unsure about a ram.

It's too late at scanning time to do anything. Ewes will be maintained on quality grass after mating and will be scanned in late December or January.

When I have the rams out I often give them some whole oats while I raddle mark them. This gives them some extra energy and also makes it easy to catch them to put raddle marking on them.

I don't use a raddle harness, I use the powder tubs and an oil mix and smear it on the chest of the ram with a brush.

Starting with the usual lighter colour and change to darker colours as the season progresses, this is done at two week intervals.

Ram lambs generally replace the rams that were let out earlier in the season in early November.

The Bluefaced Leicester rams will left out till the 3rd week of November depending on body condition score and then will be replaced by Lanark type Blackface rams to clean up the remaining repeats.

Tom Staunton farms in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

Next up...

The focus will be on breeding but also preparing the last of the whether lambs for sale.

These lambs will begin meal feeding and will continue to be fed on grass. The lambing fields will begin to be closed off at the end of October for the coming spring. Best of luck to all who purchased sheep from us for the coming season.

Indo Farming

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