90pc success rate fostering lambs helped keep pressure managable

John Large

John Large

Now that the big rush of lambing is over and grass is growing, we can have a look back and see how we got on. The first thing I learned is that no extra protein is required until the last three weeks of pregnancy. Having good hay and silage is also a huge advantage.

I also learned how important it is to keep vaccinating for abortion. We have been vaccinating for enzootic abortion for the past five years, this year none was available, so the hoggets weren't vaccinated. As a result, 15 of these aborted with dead lambs or had weak live lambs. These were all born before due date and created a lot of extra work, but once we got going, everything went really well.

The next surprise was extra triplets from the ewes carrying twins. As the triplets mostly lambed first and singles at the end, we had a lot of dry triplet lambs to foster. Our plan is simple. Make as many twins as possible, very few ewes with triplets and a few pets.

The best way of fostering dry lambs for us was to put the lamb for adoption in a plastic bag, split on two joining sides. The lamb is restrained by binding its legs with two snap ties. When the foster mother is ready to lamb, place the bag under her rear end. Lamb the ewe into to the plastic bag, with the adopted lamb catching the lambing fluids.

Now rub the two lambs together until they are both covered in lambing fluid. Place them both in a small temporary pen where the ewe lambed, leave for 10 minutes then cut off the snap ties. This system for us had a 90pc success rate as we successfully adopted 57 lambs.

Our lambing results are as follows:

  • 10 -- Aborted no lambs;
  • 5 -- Rearing no lambs due to no milk, mastitis or lambing problems;
  • 88 -- Singles averaging 6kg;
  • 349 -- Twins averaging 4.86kg;
  • 15 -- Triplets averaging 4.07kg;
  • 6 -- Orphan lambs (pets).

From this I can now calculate there are 452 ewes rearing 831 lambs which works out at 1.84 lambs per ewe. This is what we let out to the fields, so hopefully most will be back for their 40-day weighing.

The weather is also a huge help. As urea was spread on March 1 (30units/acre), there may not be a huge amount of grass but enough young green and clean pasture. With roughly 60 ewes and their lambs going out every day, we need to be able to spread them around a lot of paddocks. Every day we put another load into each field.

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The work-load was shared between four of us. One at night, the rest to feed ewes, lamb, tail, castrate lambs and move to the fields.

With plenty of milk, 100 small pens and fine weather, the pressure never got out of hand. Maybe this being our second year of synchronisation was a help, as we all knew what was happening.

All ewes are now out at grass with only meal being fed to the triplets and some poor milking ewes. These are getting 0.5kg of meal once a day. The twins are in groups of 50 and will be put into groups of 100 next week. The singles will go to the out farm and graze with the cattle.

From April 1 we have 100 repeat ewes and the ewe lambs to lamb. The ewes are in the shed with the twins getting 0.5kg of meal and the singles 0.2kg per day. The ewe lambs are still out and will be until they start to lamb.

John Large is a sheep farmer at Gortnahoe, Thurles, Co Tipperary

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