March having come in like a lion is certainly leaving like a lamb. Spring has been good to sheep farmers although we could do with a bit milder weather to get the grass moving around the place.
The mature ewes lambed in a fairly compact three-week period. I've a few stragglers left but there's certainly no need to spend long hours in the sheep shed. Lamb mortality is significantly lower compared to last year. I have managed to stop watery mouth and joint ill by focusing on greater shed hygiene and by regularly liming the entire house and not just the lambing pens.
Also, I have focused more on making sure the lambs get sufficient amounts of beastings. The high soyabean meal content of the ration I was feeding played a significant part in making sure my ewes had adequate milk for their lambs.
For my triplet-bearing ewes, a friendly dairy farmer kept me in a good supply of thick creamy cow beastings. This is the best substitute for sheep beastings in the situation where you are worried that a ewe may not have enough milk.
Also, using the teat dipper for putting iodine on the navels seems to have controlled my joint ill problem that claimed a good few lambs on me last year.
That being said, there has been a few hiccups along the way and needless to say I've had my losses like every other farmer out there. These came in various forms such as poor mothering, lack of milk in some instances, predators such as grey crows and foxes, and then there are the difficult births and the unexplained deaths.
Each year I really focus on weeding out the ewes that cause trouble - poor mothers or poor milkers.
The method I use for this is an ear notcher. Any ewe that I don't want kept in the flock for next year gets a little notch on the ear so that I can distinguish her when the time comes for culling.
Cull ewe prices are currently very good so I think that it is important to avail of the opportunity to move them on. You just need to make sure that they have not received any medications in recent weeks and withdrawal periods are observed.
There is a bit of a lull in the lambing at the moment but my ewe lambs are due to kick off any minute now. In the meantime I have been busy getting fertiliser out. I have covered the farm with 30 units/one bag of CAN.
The grass situation is still tight and supply is not keeping up with demand so any fields where the grass has dropped below 4cm are being supplemented with 1kg of feed per head per day.
It's expensive in the short term, but worthwhile in the long run.
I expect to only have to do this for a period of 10 days or so until growth kicks off. It's important not to let sheep graze paddocks too soon as they nip the bud of the early growth of grass, leaving the field on the back foot for the rest of the spring. Holding back for a few days gives grass just enough time to get going.
I reseeded an 11ac field that got badly poached during the winter. The contractor used an 'Einbock' seeder. It's the first time that I have used such a method and I look forward to seeing the results.
Finally, it is good to see lamb prices so strong. It's about time they caught up with the cost of living. Five years ago farmers were talking about averaging €100/hd for lamb. I think that it is time to move on from that base and mid-season sheep farmers realistically need to aim for a minimum average price of €110/hd for their lambs. Every year prices for everything else seems to go up and our single payment is being cut year-on-year so something needs to make up the shortfall - otherwise we won't stay in business. I will be entering GLAS as soon as the opportunity arises and I think that every farmer should.
John Fagan is a sheep farmer from Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath.