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Tuesday 22 August 2017

The flock start their grazing rotation after another hectic lambing season

This year's lambing season is almost finished. Getty Images.
This year's lambing season is almost finished. Getty Images.
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

The first round of lambing is now complete at Lyons with the repeats just starting to lamb this week.

Overall lambing progressed without too many issues, though there is always a couple of interesting items rearing their head.

Our efforts this year were greatly aided by the second year Agricultural Science students who volunteered to assist with the lambing at Lyons.

Stephen Lott and Michael Ronayne were in charge of the day shifts and night shifts respectively and coordinated the research and lambing activities of the flock.

Monday, March 13 saw the highest level of lambing activity in the shed, and this was also the day when 350 secondary school students visited the farm as part of the Agri Aware farm walk series.

There was certainly no issue keeping the students and indeed the teachers interested with the level of activity in the lambing shed. For some of the students it was one of their first times visiting a farm and it is always great to see their wonder at the birth of new life.

It also kept me on my toes in terms of answering the varied questions and explaining how and why some of the lambs didn't survive.

Overall mortality stands at 8pc, which is close to our target.


As with every other year, the problem issues largely occurred at the beginning and end of the lambing with the middle section running smoothly, if hectically. Ewes (including ewe lambs) produced 1.94 lambs in total, with 1.78 surviving to turn out.

Lamb birth weights were good. Ewes produced singles averaging 6kg live weight, twins at 5.5kg and triplets at 4.3kg. Ewe lambs, as you would expect, produced smaller lambs of 5kg and 4.3 kg for singles and twins respectively.

This year we noted that mothering behaviour was very strong in both the ewes and ewe lambs, with both groups lambing down with plentiful milk supply.

These two traits make the lambing process so much easier as there is less time spent dealing with hungry and or rejected lambs.

Weather conditions were also reasonably good at lambing time, which allowed us to turn ewes and lambs out to grass at 48-72 hours of age.

Our sheep graze the silage ground immediately after turn out, and this is located away from the yard, so we try to avoid bringing animals back in after initial turn out.

The good grass growing conditions, combined with the poor grazing conditions in February and early March, means there is an excellent bank of grass available for the ewes and lambs.

Our research activities meant there was a large volume of data and samples collected during the already busy lambing period also.

We recorded birth weight, lambing difficulty, lamb vigour, ewe milkiness, score and sampled all lambs at 24 hours for serum IgG concentration.

IgG or immunoglobulin G in the serum at 24 hours of age is a key indicator of the success, or otherwise of the transfer of the protective antibodies from the ewes colostrum to the new born lamb.

This transfer is crucial to provide the lamb with disease resistance in early life.

Our research this year is looking at the factors which influence this trait and we are hoping to determine to what extent it is under genetic control.

Michelle McManus was also selecting the ewes and lambs for her feed intake study.

Michelle is attempting to validate predictors of feed intake, and consequently feed efficiency, in lactating ewes, with a view to allow for greater phenotype collection which will in future allow us to breed more efficient sheep.

This week will see the ewes and lambs moved to the hill ground at Lyons, where they will continue to graze until weaning in June. The month of April will also be exceptionally busy as we measure feed intake at pasture, and milk yield from 50 ewes.

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


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