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Tuesday 27 June 2017

Sheep advice: The groundwork is done so it's time to let nature take her course

Lambing is expected any time now. Stock photo
Lambing is expected any time now. Stock photo
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

We expect the first ewes to start lambing at Lyons any day now and the preparations are essentially complete at this stage.

We have the individual lambing pens set up, all our lambing essentials gathered and staff sorted out to assist with the data collection from a farm management and research point of view.

Given the compact nature of lambing at Lyons and the additional research activities ongoing, which means ewes and lambs may spend a few hours extra in the individual pens, we have one lambing pen for every five ewes lambing, though it always feels like we could use a little more.

These pens have a floor are of three square metres, are straw bedded and each pen has an individual concentrate feeder, water drinker (hand filled) and a forage feeder is shared between two pens.

We feed hay to the ewes in the lambing pens when possible as this makes it a little easier to keep the bedding clean and dry.

We do not clean out the pens between individual ewes (unless it becomes excessively wet due to water spillage, etc) but continually add fresh bedding and white lime is added after each ewe.

Our ewes and lambs will spend between 24-36 hours in these pens.

All lambs are tagged within the first 24 hours of life and their gender, birth weight and lamb vigour is recorded as part of the Sheep Ireland Central Progeny Test (CPT) program. Additional data on lambing difficulty, ewe behaviour and 'milkability' is also collected.

This data is then entered in a centralised data base and used to generate breeding values for a number of economically important traits.

This adds some additional personnel to the lambing shed also.

As a teaching flock we also host a number of undergraduate students from the Agricultural Science degree program in UCD.

Every year we have a huge interest in the lambing, with students from all backgrounds coming to help.

Some have very little or no experience of lambing or sheep husbandry, some come from very impressive home-farm backgrounds, but the willingness to work is a common trait across the majority of the students.

The other facet of the Lyons flock is the research which takes place. For much of our studies lambing is when the work really kicks off.

This year we are investigating the genetics of passive immunity, validation of easy to measure predictors of feed intake and feed efficiency and the factors influencing milk yield in early lactation.

Michelle McManus is overseeing much of this work, and we also have some students from Poland visiting for three months to develop their own PhD programmes. So all-in-all it is going to be an interesting few weeks.

Ewes and lambs have all received their clostridial booster vaccinations at this stage and general flock health is good, with minimal lameness issues to report.

The higher silage DM content this year is no doubt aiding in this regard as it is much easier to keep the bedding dry in this scenario. We did have one case of intestinal prolapse which resulted in death of the ewe. She was a single bearing animal and no obvious cause was identified.

Grass growth over winter and in the early spring has been good and despite the slightly colder conditions last week there is a good supply of grass available for turnout. All our repeats are at grass at the moment.

At the moment triplet bearing ewes are receiving 1 kg of a 18 pc crude protein concentrate, twins are receiving 750 grams of same.

Singles are getting just 100 grams of soya bean meal to support colostrum production as most of these will hopefully receive a foster lamb. Ewe lambs are on 600 or 750 grams of the compound feed for singles and twins respectively.

Associate Professor Tommy Boland is a lecturer in Sheep Production, Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. @Pallastb tommy.boland@ucd.ie


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