Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Drafting lambs early weighs up against cost of keeping them

John Fagan

John Fagan

Sheep shorn, silage cut and lambs weaned. Normally all these crucial tasks would be completed by the first week in July but, like everything this year, I am behind schedule.

To say we are fed up with the weather would be an understatement. So far this year I have managed to draft 550 lambs to the factory. The silver lining to the weather is that the volume of lambs fit across the country has been low, resulting in the lamb price holding firm. I try to kill as many lambs as possible off the ewes as I find that they kill out better. For example, I drafted fleshy lambs to the factory last week from 38kg upwards.

Some people would disagree with this on the basis that they would be too light. But I reckon when you weigh up the cost of keeping them longer, along with the price drop that usually occurs at this time of year, you are better off to kill them. For example, the average carcase weight out of 380 lambs that were killed last week was 18.4kg. We are just finished weaning the lambs and I plan to get the shearing done this week. At the same time I hope to get my silage in, albeit three weeks late. The quality will be poor so I will have to supplement it with meal.

However, my priority is to ensure that it's as dry as possible since wet silage and bedding sheep are not fun.


Another positive from the unseasonal weather is the fact that we have had no evidence of flystrike, allowing me time to get the new sheep dip and foot bath finished. Lameness in ewes is something which has stifled the thrive of my stock over the years so I have built two new foot baths. This will allow me to treat the lambs or ewes in any part of the farm for lameness. Each footbath holds roughly 500l of water and I use zinc sulphate, which I find very effective. It can also be used again and again which reduces cost.

Once the ewes are dried off and the lambs have settled after weaning, I will separate the ewe lambs from the ram lambs and spread them out around the farm. With the ewes, I focus on getting them ready for next season so in about two weeks time I will start going through them, culling the problem ewes which were notched during the season. Notching them on the ear is the most effective way of culling them.

I weaned the lambs from my hogget ewes a bit earlier than usual. I want to try and give them as much time as possible to put on condition and get them ready for next year's breeding season. I'm a fan of condition scoring sheep at this time of year to ensure a good crop of lambs for next year. Thin ewes are put on better grass and fat ewes are restricted.

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I am also taking in the rams to take stock of them and have them ready for September. I have found that it is better dealing with this now rather than trying to haul them out the week before tupping. I will be buying in some new rams also and I hope to get them bought early to make sure I have enough. I run about one ram to every 40 ewes on the basis that it is better to have plenty of ram power.

Buying in rams is a tricky business as going to specialist breeding sales can often result in the purchase of a fine looking ram only to find that they can lose a lot of condition after the sale. Ram lambs are not strong enough to run with mature ewes in the first year. That is why I am buying in hogget rams which are stronger and are able to recover from a tough season and ultimately tupp a lot more ewes.


I have no preference for one breed or the other. Obviously, I would not put Texel or Suffolk rams with ewe lambs and for this job I use easier lambing rams like Charolais, Vendeens and Isle De France. They are all good in their own way. I keep the Suffolk and Texel ewe lambs from my mule ewes as replacements for the next year. Keeping my own replacements reduces costs and reduces disease risk. Like most sheep farmers, I rate my own ewe lambs more highly than any ewe that can be bought. As I draft lambs for the factory, I keep back any strong ewe lambs that might make good breeders. This means that they'll have a better chance of breeding in their first year and recovering to breed again next year. This is the key with ewe lambs. They must be a good 45-50kg to breed in their first year.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Crookedwood, Co Westmeath

Indo Farming