Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 March 2018

Dry weather a boost with lambing in full swing

John Fagan

John Fagan

What a difference a bit of dry weather makes, and it could not have come at a better time with my lambing season now in full swing.

I have three students on placement with me for this period and I'm glad to report that they are working out very well.

Two are studying agriculture at UCD and one lad is from Ballyhaise Agricultural College. Having them about the place makes the whole challenge of getting through the lambing season a lot easier and they are enthusiastic and careful.

One of them plays football for the county and is looking forward to evening training sessions ... for a rest.

I find the thing that makes lambing easier is having plenty of individual pens for the ewes and lambs. I have over 50 pens available which gives the ewe and lambs plenty of time to bond and means that when I let them out there is no problem with mis-mothering.

And if the weather turns nasty I won't be under too much pressure if I have to keep them in for longer. This year I am using rubber rings to tail the lambs.

I had gone off using them before as I felt that they prolonged the pain of tailing to the detriment of the lamb. But cutting them off with a sharp knife is not a pleasant task either so the jury is out.


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After a ewe and lamb are let out, the pen is entirely cleaned out and limed to reduce the build-up of any infection in the shed. I place a lot of emphasis on hygiene in the shed.

I try to foster as many lambs as I can to the single ewes. It is a tricky task and you have to be alert to get it done quickly.

I have the single ewes conveniently penned close to the triplets and I have managed to foster a good few so far.

As a rule I don't allow a ewe to rear triplets. It usually ends up with one or maybe two dead lambs out of the three.

Each year I end up with nearly a hundred pets as I also don't like to let a ewe lamb rear twins, so I decided to purchase an automatic feeder from Volac.

This is the closest thing to an espresso machine for sheep but it is expensive to rear lambs, at about €50 per head up to weaning.

However, if it is done correctly a factory price of anything above €50 has the lamb paid for.

I find it works well for me because it saves me time at lambing with mixing and caring for the pets, and the machine is so efficient at feeding the lambs that they will draft as quickly as any naturally reared lamb.

My ewes that are due to lamb from mid-March on are getting heavy and a few knocks in the shed have resulted in a few ewes slipping their lambs.

To deal with this I have loosened out the shed a good bit by letting out the ewes that were scanned with singles.

This has left a lot more room for the others. The singles will be better off outside anyway and there is no point in over-feeding them either. I will put them in a dry field with access to haylage and I can top-up with some meal if required.

My two-year-old ewes are thriving well. They had lost a fair bit of condition, but since mid January I have been feeding them 1kg of an 18pc protein sheep nut.

Expensive, but it would be more expensive if they ended up lambing down in poor shape. They have turned inside out and I am very pleased with how they have done.

I got back my soil test results and the pH or lime requirement for the farm is nil. I held back on putting out urea this year as the weather simply wasn't suited to spreading it.

Since I started soil testing, I have discovered that some fields are quite low in P and K. So now I adjust my fertiliser spreading to each field to meet the demands of maximum grass growth.

I also did a trace element test on a few fields and they came up low in cobalt. I will now give my lambs a cobalt bolus at the time of their first dose at the end of April.

This should help maximise their growth rates at this very important time of the year. I think that the labs need to be more proactive in getting Schmallenberg samples by providing a service that can pick them up. It is in everyone's interest that more information on the disease is gathered quickly.

I have huge sympathy for the farmers affected by this new disease and hope that they don't lose faith in their trade.

There needs to be some sort of compensation fund put in place to help out those that have been so badly affected.

Each year modulation money is skimmed off our SFP. Why can't it be used to help farmers affected by such events?

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Crookedwood, Co Westmeath. Email:

Irish Independent