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Saturday 18 November 2017

Ewe conception rates jump from 65pc to 80pc

John Large

John Large

With all the ewes that conceived to AI now lambed, the pressure is definitely off. We lambed 450 ewes in 12 days. Our conception rate was a lot higher at 80pc than last year's 65pc, so we were a lot busier.

The only information I have back so far is that our average birth weight was 4.7kg, with the lightest 1.8kg and the heaviest 7.5kg. We have 385 ewe lambs and 430 male lambs. This works out that each ewe is raising 1.8 lambs. At least, that is what they were let out to the field with. This figure will definitely change by the time the lambs are gathered for their first dose.

The last week has not been very helpful for getting lambs out. We still have about 130 ewes with lambs inside.

These are mostly hoggets with twins and the ewes rearing triplets.

They are eating 1.2kg of meal for the twins and 1.6kg for the triplets. The ewes outside are spread lightly over all the dryer fields.

Grass is scarce and if we do not get an improvement in the weather by the end of this week, meal will have to be fed.

Last year our big problem was joint-ill in lambs of less than a week old. This year all lambs were injected with 1ml of Ultrapen, a long-acting penicillin, before they were 12 hours old.

This has worked very well ,with only three cases treated so far and two of these are almost cured.

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We use a vaccinating gun to administer the injection. This eliminates the need for syringes being filled for each lamb, which has got to be more hygienic and a lot faster. This was a job for our UCD student, David. First thing every morning and last thing each evening he went around all the lambing pens injecting the new-born lambs and numbering the ewes. He also got plenty of experience tailing and castrating with rings.

After this, the corresponding number on the ewe is put on her lambs. At this stage the ewe and her lambs are ready to go out.

TAGGED

While the ewe was in her individual pen ICBF staff recorded the lamb's sex, weight and number of lambs born to the ewe. Finally, the lambs were tagged.

Lambing this many ewes in such a short length of time can be very stressful when ewes and lambs are building up inside due to the snow piling up outside.

However, we were lucky with only one day of snow showers and we were out again the day after. I am constantly saying milk is the key, and this week was proof of that.

Lambs with full bellies are a lot easier to keep alive both in the shed and out in mediocre weather. A ewe with plenty of colostrum when she lambs gives her lambs a great start.

The shepherd's job is just to make sure that the lambs suckle in the first few hours.

We had a few cases of E coli. Each time the problem could be traced back to the ewe not having enough colostrum when she lambed. I know I am going to get in trouble for saying this but most of the culprit ewes were Charolais crosses.

We have about 120 repeat ewes to lamb from April 1 and no ewe lambs. There are only six triplets on these ewes so it should be easy to manage.

My ewe-lambs were too light last October so we did not put them to the ram. They have been outside all winter on grass and bales of silage.

They may not be very heavy but they have all summer to gain enough weight before mating next October.

With weather and grass growth so slow I am just as happy they are not in lamb. It has always been a marginal decision whether to put them in lamb or not.

When you add up the cost of extra meal before they lamb, after lambing for the twins, then more feed for lambs after weaning to get them off the farm as quickly as possible, and run the risk of getting a price of less than €100, I think they are as well off empty.

The same could be said about rearing pet lambs. Why not take €20 for a small lamb less than a week old rather than feed them €50 worth of milk and meal. That's before you add another €20 for your work.

It just doesn't add up. Then again, maybe the real reason behind this kind of logic is just the fact that I am getting older.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary. Email: johnslarge@live.com

Irish Independent