Eight different breeds of ram ups our reliance on star rating
The past few weeks have been spent preparing the ewes for the mating season. They have put on a good amount of weight after the dry weather to bring most of them up to a body condition score of more than 3.5. Very few ewes are at a score 3 or less, just a few older or lame ones.
This year we are carrying about 20 more ewes than normal so there is room to cull any that have not put on enough weight. We will cull off about 10 more because if they are not in good enough condition at mating, they will not be in good enough condition at lambing. One could be tempted to keep them, especially with cull ewe prices down by €10/hd on last year.
All the ewes, rams and ewe lambs have been dipped. We also dipped 120 of the smallest lambs that will not be sold until later in the year. These lambs will be finished on fodder rape, a forage crop which was sown after the spring barley was cut. The crop was sown on August 23 and it rained the following day so we had shoots overground seven days later. However, it stopped growing for the following three weeks. The field turned green alright, but this was due to volunteer barley not the fodder rape.
We spread one-and-a-half bags of 27pc nitrogen with sulphur on September 20 and since then it has really started to grow.
We sprayed the field to kill off the volunteer barley last week and with the rain and temperatures holding in the mid teens, it should grow well for the next few months. It will give us plenty of feed to finish the last of the lambs before the new year.
We sponged half of the ewes on September 28 and the remainder were sponged on October 3. The ewes are mated using laproscopic AI after the sponges were removed and PMSG administered two days beforehand.
This year the rams being used all have high star ratings of four or better for production and maternal traits. For the last four years we used rams that would create better linkages within their breed and give higher reliability figures for their production and maternal traits.
This year, we will be using a few more rams from maternal type breeds, such as Lleyn and Bluefaced Leicester.
The number of ewes put to each ram will also be reduced to 30 so we will have lambs born next spring from 20 individual rams from eight different breeds. Our central progeny testing (CPT) contract with Sheep Ireland requires us to keep a percentage of ewe lambs from each ram so our ewe flock will be made up from a mix of breeds for the next few years.
Hopefully we can make faster progress now that we will be using these higher star-rated rams. I know not all the results will be pluses because being a progeny test farm means we have to use ewes and rams from breeds that we would not necessarily choose ourselves. However, from our experience, there often seems to be bigger differences within breeds than there are between breeds.
Lamb sales are continuing on a fortnightly basis. Last week they yielded 21.1kg from a live weight of 45kg which gives us a kill-out of almost 47pc. Our Typhon is coming to an end so we expect to see our kill-out percentages to fall back to 45pc.
We have another load ready for next week if the price would only pick up a bit. With the next Islamic festival just a week away, I'm hoping that will help improve demand. After this draft of lambs, we will introduce some meal to all lambs over 40kg to help finish them faster as we will need all the grass to keep our ewes out for as long as possible.
I read last week's sheep article from Michael Gottstein with interest. He is correct in what he says about maximising profit from higher stocking rates, better breeding systems, better flock health care and, most importantly, by improving grassland management.
But this cannot be done without money. We do need a decent price of €5/kg but how we can secure this I don't know. There is a lot of talk about a coupled payment for the suckler cow industry. I wonder what a coupled payment for sheep would do for the industry.
For example, how about a payment something like the sheep grassland payment but with the number of ewes not restricted to just a few hundred?
John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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