Farm Ireland

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Sheep: Instant demand for grass in spring with synchronised lambing

Tommy Boland

Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30

The Dunne family enjoying the Pedigree Charollais sheep sale inTullow mart on Saturday, front Allison, Ashling, in the back were Aoife, Aine and Aimee Dunne (l-r) from Jenkinstown, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.
The Dunne family enjoying the Pedigree Charollais sheep sale inTullow mart on Saturday, front Allison, Ashling, in the back were Aoife, Aine and Aimee Dunne (l-r) from Jenkinstown, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.

Focus is now firmly on setting up our spring grazing, with the recommendation that paddocks receive a rest period of 120 days to the forefront of our mind.

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Measuring and grass budgeting also helps greatly with planned closing and opening dates, by providing information on the ability of the farm to grow grass in the early spring period.

The continuing mild weather is helping to maintain grass growth at Lyons.

Soil temperature was in excess of 11 degrees over the last week and grass growth was averaging 24kg DM per ha per day.

Our objective next spring, as is the case with many sheep farms, is to turn ewes and lambs out full time as soon as possible after lambing without concentrate supplementation.

To do this we must have adequate supplies of grass to carry the stock post turnout. Our system is a little different to many others.

As ewes are synchronised, lambing is very compact, so demand for grass is instantaneous in spring with 80-90pc of ewes turned out within a single week.

The rams have finished the first repeat cycle with the ewes and ewe lambs and any repeating ewes are now sporting a lovely blue raddle colour on their backside.

Initial counts would indicate less than 10pc of ewes have repeated, but as we have learned in the past it is too early to draw any conclusions on this.

Again this year we have noticed a number, albeit admittedly small, of 'early' repeats.

Or ewes that are being mated before you would expect them to be repeating.

The oestrus cycle of the ewe is on average 17 days ranging from 13 to 19 days.

We have ewes mated 11 days after AI this year. It begs the question if these ewes were actually 'on heat' at AI at all.

One way or another we will know the full picture at scanning time.

There are 60 lambs remaining on the farm at the moment. With the recent heavy rainfall the feeding value of grass is declining.

Work from both Frank Campion and Brian Garry indicates that 'wet' grass reduces both grass intake and digestibility, or energy yield from the grass.

At this time of the year grass energy content is already lower than that of spring grass, at the same pre-grazing herbage mass.

To compensate for this loss of energy lambs are being supplemented with concentrates.

Our lambs are receiving 500grams of a 15pc crude protein concentrate per day. Selecting lambs from slaughter is made more difficult in persistently wet weather. Dry lambs at any given weight will have a higher kill out percentage than wet lambs.

It is difficult to get a reliable estimate of how much of an impact this will have, but a variation of 1 to 2pc is probably a reasonable assumption.

There are considerable funding opportunities for research at the moment, with money available at a national level with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Research Stimulus Fund, Science Foundation Ireland, and at a wider level from the European H2020.

Much of the next month will be taken up with proposal writing to secure some of these funds to help support the sheep industry into the future.

While it can be difficult to secure funding for sheep research, given its relatively lower contribution than beef and dairy to agri-food output, it is refreshing to see some sheep based projects overtly requested in the Research Stimulus Fund call documents.

The UCD sheep production team will certainly be pursuing these opportunities.

Next up

The focus for the next month will be around setting up the housing facilities for turning in the ewes in late December.

This will need to be completed before the Christmas break here.

Preparation of the ewes themselves will also take place with particular attention being paid to foot care.

Housing lame sheep is to be avoided if at all possible as housing on straw bedding presents an ideal environment to spread foot rot.

Dr Tommy Boland, lecturer in sheep production, Lyons Research Farm, UCD. email:

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