Thursday 29 September 2016

Sheep: Grassroots approach

Tom Coll

Published 06/05/2015 | 02:30

Sean Conway with the plate meter he now uses to measure grass on a weekly basis
Sean Conway with the plate meter he now uses to measure grass on a weekly basis
Divisions: Sean uses electric wire mesh to divide the paddocks on his Co Sligo farm

Lambing commenced on Sean Conway's farm on March 10 and was compact as planned, with the last lamb born on April 18.

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Sean is currently hitting the Teagasc targets for a mid-season lambing flock, with ewes at 1.68 lambs per ewe put to the ram and at 1.0 lambs per ewe-lamb.

Mortality in the ewe flock is at 6.5pc and 11pc for the ewe lambs.

Mature ewes are on grass only post lambing, with the exception of one group of 30 ewes supplemented for one week at 1kg/ewe/day during poor weather conditions.

Ewe lambs rearing twins, four ewes with mastitis and one ewe rearing triplets are currently receiving concentrates and their lambs will receive creep.

Sean's goal is to finish 90pc of lambs off grass with no concentrate input as achieved in previous years. Concentrate fed per ewe to date is as targeted at €13 per ewe.

Earliest born lambs were dosed on April 30 for nematodirus with a white worm drench following the nematodirus forecast that was issued by the Department of Agriculture's nematodirus advisory group.

They advise that lambs in the south and westerly coastal areas should have already been dosed with a suitable anthelmintic, either a white or a yellow drench, while those in the rest of the country should be dosed from late April to early May.

Sean's flock graze the same fields each year, which increases the risk of infection. Sean plans to use faecal-egg counts from June onwards to determine when future dosing is required.

In the case of nematodirus, it is the larvae that cause the damage to the intestine, so the nematodirus forecast is the best method of predicting when to dose.

Farmers need to be aware that the symptoms of a nematodirus outbreak are similar to an outbreak of coccidosis (black scour), where lambs become dehydrated and collect around drinkers before death ensues - the two conditions often occur concurrently.

Sean has no history of coccidosis on the farm to date.

All lambs will be dosed with cobalt every 14 days from eight weeks of age. They will also be footbathed to prevent scald each time they are gathered for dosing.

Tom.Coll@ teagasc.ie

Grassland management

This year Sean is using the Pasture Base programme to measure grass growth and to guide decisions about the removal of grass surpluses. This will enable his flock to graze paddocks at the ideal height to maximise lamb growth rates.

Sean will then use the program at the end of the growing season to review how each paddock has performed based on the overall annual grass dry matter production. The results can then be matched with soil analysis results and decisions made on fertiliser and lime requirements and the need for reseeding.

Sean is grazing paddocks to a post-grazing height of 3.5-4cm, with sheep going into paddocks at heights of 6-7cm. The main grazing block that Sean is measuring consists of 19.35ha divided into 11 paddocks.

The current daily grass growth rate is 18kg/ha/day,which is similar to the growth rate of 16kg/ha/day recorded on the Teagasc Sheep BETTER farm of John O'Connell in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim for the same period.

Sean has currently 22 days' grass ahead of the ewes and, as a consequence, no meals are currently being fed to ewes or lambs. The entire farm has been available for grazing to date with no specific areas closed for silage. He plans to make the majority of his silage by removing surplus grass from paddocks. He prefers quality over bulk when it comes to making round bales for sheep.

All lambs will be weighed in the next two weeks and again at weaning and prior to sale. Lambs are electronically tagged and details of lamb performance and slaughter data on Sean's and Michael Duffy's farms will be outlined in future articles.

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