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Independent.ie

Monday 19 February 2018

A season fraught with hazards

It is a season fraught with hazards for sheep farmers
It is a season fraught with hazards for sheep farmers

Tom Staunton tstaunton@ independent.ie

We are now within a few weeks of the lambing season - a period when many upsets can occur. I have fallen victim to some of these over the past week. I have seen ewes going over on their back and unable to get up. Luckily this hasn't led to any fatalities.

All the ewes are now receiving concentrates and feeding ewes is seen as a normal task. I had an eventful and frustrating first feeding of one batch of ewes when one started to choke on the feed. All of my attempts to save her failed.

I housed some of the ewes that were AI'd as these will be lambing in early March. Four of these ewes became weak after housing, showing signs of a lack of calcium. I treated these with Calciject and the ewes responded well to the treatment with a full recovery. Perhaps the stress of movement and change of diet turned sub-clinical symptoms into to clinical symptoms. These ewes are now on a diet of hay and 0.75kg of an 18pc CP ewe and lamb ration.

Other upsets that can occur at this time of year are ewes aborting lambs, prolapsing etc. One other major preventable problem dogs worrying amd attacking pregnant ewes.

This came to mind as I read last week's Farming Independent. Apart from the physical damage, these attacks also have an impact on the survivors. Ewes become unsettled and stressed and can abort lambs.

Dog owners should know the whereabouts of their dogs at all times but particularly while ewes are pregnant and into early lactation.

Based on the soil samples I have had analysed, the P and K levels were low across the farm. This was possibly due to restrictions under REPS over the years. I have now applied 0-10-20 to the deficient fields. I have also applied a half bag of urea/acre to the fields that were saved over the winter. Hopefully that the weather will remain favourable and a good response will be achieved.

Teagasc held a hill sheep conference in Westport towards the end of January where I was asked to give a presentation on my experience and involvement in breeding groups and producer groups over the years.

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Michael Diskin from Teagasc Athenry spoke about research on fattening hill lambs.

This was an interesting subject with some surprises from the trial results.

Among these was the finding that there little difference between the average daily gain (ADG) of Blackface mountain wether lambs and full ram lambs.

Shearing of the lambs before the finishing period did not have any effect on ADG of the lambs. Some other topics on the night included performance recording of sheep by Samuel Wharry from Co Antrim.

Samuel spoke about his experience of performance recording since 1997 and on how he uses the recording to improve his flock's performance. The recording also gives farmers a benchmark and farmers can compare figures against other flocks which helps sourcing good genetics.

I think the recording of maternal traits and particularly the milking ability of ewes (recorded from the eight-week weight of the lamb/s) is something more emphasis should be placed on.

This is something we have been doing for the past number of years.

We breed our replacements off proven ewes that have proven themselves in the flock and milking and mothering ability are high on the list of traits sought in our ewes.

Lambs are at their most efficient at putting on weight early in life and it makes sense to have milky ewes that can rear two good lambs. It is something that cannot be changed overnight and it is something that we will continue to work on.

Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

Indo Farming