Farm Ireland

Friday 28 October 2016

We are fattening up the rams ahead of the breeding season

Tom Staunton

Published 14/09/2016 | 02:30

Tom Staunton with his pen of lambs at the Mayo Mule & Greyface Group sale in Ballinrobe last Friday. Photo: Conor McKeown
Tom Staunton with his pen of lambs at the Mayo Mule & Greyface Group sale in Ballinrobe last Friday. Photo: Conor McKeown

Our breeding sale season is in full swing. We kicked off with the Mayo Mule and Greyface premier sale on August 26. There was a brilliant turnout of stock, that attracted buyers from all over Ireland. The lambs I sold for example ended up in three different counties; Carlow, Galway and Westmeath. My personal average was a little back on last year but both lambs and hoggets sold well on the day.

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Our attention then turned to our second Mayo Mule and Greyface sale last Saturday (September 10). At the time of writing I'm hopeful for another successful sale as the demand for the Mule and Greyface ewes continues to develop.

The characteristics of the Mule ewe and the quality of the sheep on offer is what is driving demand. Mule ewes have good mothering instincts, milkiness, prolificacy, and length. They get the length from both parents, the Blackface ewe and the Bluefaced Leicester. Improving lambing percentage and the number of lambs sold is a sure way of improving output, but it is also important to produce two good even sized lambs for slaughter.

Preparation for next year's crop has begun already. I dipped the ewes last week in a tub which is something I always do pre-breeding. I prefer to have the ewes dipped and not have to disturb them when they are out with the ram or afterwards. Ewes were also treated with a wormer and a mineral and vitamin dose.

The ewes were running on bare pasture after weaning and they have been offered better grass on the run up to breeding to have the ewes on a rising plane of nutrition. I find flushing of ewes and having nutrition correct both pre-breeding and in the first four to six weeks post breeding important to optimise lambing percentage and to help reduce barren ewes.

I will raddle mark all rams with the ewes and will change colour every two weeks to help make sure rams are working correctly. It also helps at scanning and in the springtime by being able to sort ewes into their groupings for feeding and for lambing. This makes life a little easier and ewes can be fed more accurately.

Body condition

The rams can definitely not be forgotten pre-breeding. I gave all the rams a once over a couple of weeks before the ewes. All their particulars were checked and they were treated with a wormer and mineral and vitamin dose. Hooves were pared where needed and rams were put on a concentrate ration to help improve body condition. Rams need to be in good condition as they will lose a lot of body condition during the breeding season.

Once rams are out with the ewes, I will keep an eye on them to ensure they are healthy and are working correctly. If a ram isn't working or gets a chill or a rise in temperature during the breeding season this could make him infertile for a period.

If not detected, or detected late, it could have many knock on effects such as late lambs, drawn out lambing, or even in worst case scenario, zero to few lambs.

Vigilance is key during the breeding season. I always have back-up rams just in case a ram isn't performing. Changing rams between groups of ewes during the season also helps to reduce the associated risk. I often continue to feed the rams with a bucket once with the ewes, this helps to ensure the ram is ok and also helps body condition.

There are many days though where the ram is too busy to have any interest in feed.

The Pedigree Bluefaced Leicester ewes are on good quality grass at the moment as they await AI at the end of September. This will be carried out by Ronan Gallagher of ProStar Genetics. The frozen semen to be used is from a new line of breeding that I am using for the first time. The breed lines are proven and have performed well in Britain.

Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo.

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