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Sunday 4 December 2016

Weaning stresses can take a toll on lamb performance

Tom Staunton

Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30

For weaning, ewes were put to a bare pasture to help them dry up
For weaning, ewes were put to a bare pasture to help them dry up

THE difficult spring informed a lot of my decisions this year.

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I weaned the lambs a little earlier this year as with the poor weather earlier in the year the ewes overall body condition score (BCS) was below par for this time of year.

Many of the ewes are in good shape, but overall I thought weaning them a little earlier and giving them a bit more time to recover would benefit in the long run.

According to the research, it takes six to eight weeks for ewes to gain one BCS on quality grass alone.

If the grass is stemmy it will take longer. Lambs were thriving well and it was a tough decision to make so I hope the lambs don't get too much of a setback.

For weaning, ewes were put to a bare pasture to help them dry up. The cull ewes will be taken aside and with a large supply of grass on the farm they will be left to graze some of the stronger swards and will then be sold.

All lambs have been weaned apart from the later born lambs and lambs born to last year's ewe lambs. These will be weaned over the next fortnight to give them extra time to recover.

They will be grazed on good quality grass to help them catch up on last year's ewe lambs that were run dry. Growth wise there is not much of a difference between the dry hoggets and those that reared lambs, body condition is the main difference.

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Weaning is a stressful time for both ewe and lamb. I try to minimise this stress as much as possible. Lambs were kept in the field they were in before weaning.

There are no sudden changes to the feed, so I don't put lambs on meal straight away nor take them off it. Lambs can often get sick with colds and illnesses after weaning due to stress.

Sudden changes can have a big impact on performance and anything that I can think of that can prevent this I will do to help.

Lambs are up to date with all worm and parasite treatments. The lambs also received a mineral dose to help with any post-weaning deficiencies.

Our farm is low in copper, selenium and cobalt and if left untreated lamb thrive is affected. Testing the mineral levels on your farm is another useful tool to see what deficiencies are or are not present on the farm. This information then can be used to come up with a suitable solution to any problem that may arise.

The reseeded ground is ready to graze now and lambs will be let into this to push them on and get them up to sale weight.

I won't graze it down too bare to allow the grass to tiller and thicken up the sward. I plan to continue reseeding and improving grass quality by reseeding more ground next year.

Eventually I made baled grass silage. I was waiting for decent weather as I wanted to get it as dry as I could for feeding to ewes. The bales are in and perhaps may not be as good quality as I would like but will have do the trick next year. Perhaps extra meal will have to be fed to help make up for the quality.

The silage ground was taken up later than I wanted this year due to the poor growth in the spring. I will be more prepared for this going forward.

Store lamb trade is quite strong and perhaps I will get some lambs sold this way. The factory trade is on par with last year and hopefully it can hold this way despite the fallout and uncertainty from Brexit.

Looking forward, the next few months will be busy with shows and sales. Preparation is well underway for these sale and I'm hopeful for some decent weather to help with the occasions.

Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

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