Farm Ireland

Saturday 22 October 2016

Sheep: Unusual lambing issues an eye-opener for students

Tommy Boland

Published 08/04/2015 | 02:30

Lambs have been demonstrating great vigour
Lambs have been demonstrating great vigour

With the exception of a small number of second repeats we have now completed the lambing season at Lyons.

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Attention is now shifting to maximising grass and lamb growth in the difficult weather conditions that have persisted up until the time of writing.

Lambing went well this year with lambs demonstrating great vigour and ewes lambing down with good colostrum and milk supply.

As ever, we did record one or two unusual issues, and while not having any detrimental impact overall, they proved interesting for ourselves and the students alike.

We had one triplet bearing ewe who was very large, because of a massive fluid volume in the uterus.

In the latter stages of pregnancy this resulted in the development of bloat, which was treated by the insertion of a trochar. Ultimately this ewe was induced to lamb and produced a small set of triplets who required a lot of care for a few days.

More worryingly, ewes with young lambs at foot were attacked by dogs shortly after turnout. Luckily these were spotted before any damage was done, but dog owners do need to exercise great care in the control of their animals. A dog attack can have detrimental short and long-term effects on a flock and is very distressing for flock and flock owner alike.

Perhaps there is just greater reporting of these incidents in the various forms of media but the problem does appear to be getting more common.

For the first time in a few years we were not milking ewes in Lyons this year and it freed up a lot of time in the lambing shed. Some of this time was taken up by a camera crew producing a promotional video for the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science webpage.

This was an interesting experience and although not the first time I have done something like this, it does make you much more conscious of performing even the simplest task when you know it is permanently committed to film.

We are still compiling the figures on lambing performance but the twin-bearing ewes lambed down with an average BCS of 3 and a live weight of 75kg.

These animals were turned out to grass between two and four days of age, depending on prevailing weather conditions. Average pre-grazing herbage mass was 1,100kg DM per hectare. They received no concentrate supplementation post turn-out but ewes did receive a magnesium bolus prior to turn out.

Average lamb growth rate over the first three weeks of life was 330g per day with a starting live weight of 5.2kg.

Ewes commenced grazing on the multi-species sward study last Wednesday. Growing conditions, namely low soil temperature, have proved very challenging on the grazing area this spring, but at the time of turn-out there were an average of 14 grazing days ahead of each of the four groups.

This work is part of Connie Grace's PhD that will examine animal performance and health when sheep are offered one of the following pasture types: Perennial rye grass only; perennial rye grass plus white clover; a six species mix comprising two grasses, two legumes and two herbs; or a nine species mix comprising three grasses, three legumes and three herbs.

This study is part of a larger project examining the potential of these multispecies swards to produce biodiversity and environmental benefits. They must however support adequate levels of animal performance before they can be recommended and that is the focus of our grazing work for the next two years.

Dr. Tommy Boland lectures in sheep production at Lyons Research Farm, UCD.


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