Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Higher ground on Lyons hill totally burnt up after dry spell

Dr Tommy Boland

As I write, we are still waiting for the rain that was promised. Rainfall for the first three and a half weeks of July was just 6mm, compared to a 30-year average of 54mm. Last year at Lyons we received approximately 100mm of rainfall in July.

In addition, June was also dry this year with rainfall just 70pc of the norm. Coupled with very warm temperatures, this has led to dramatic soil moisture deficits and reductions in grass growth. While the lower ground is coping somewhat, the hill on the farm here is almost totally burned up.

The ground taken out for second-cut silage has also been very slow to recover placing a bit of extra pressure on grass availability. Current grass growth here is less than 40kg DM/ha/day on the lowland fields, but substantially below this on the hill. The lack of rainfall has stressed the grass plant. This has resulted in a lot of seed heads being visible despite the low grass covers.

When the rain does come, we should see a proliferation of grass growth, since growth is always above normal after a dry spell for that particular time of the year. This burst of grass growth will be essential to allow ewes to recover condition in time for mating.

Blowfly strike has been an issue on a number of farms over the last few weeks and a lot of very clean lambs have been suffering. When treating lambs for blowfly, there are a number of options available. I am not going to recommend one over the other, since I use pour-ons at home and we dip in Lyons.

The two most important considerations are the period of efficacy and the withdrawal periods. If lambs are within a month to six weeks of slaughter, you don't need three to four months of protection. So target the treatment to suit the stage at which your lambs are at.

From a research point of view, things are relatively quite at the moment. Growth rates continue to be monitored and we are collecting some tissues in the factory for further studies. The recent IGA sheep conference in Athlone saw Frank Campion, a PhD student studying sheep nutrition in Lyons, give an excellent presentation that was very well received.

This was one of a number of quality presentations delivered that covered a wide range of topics including nutrition, breeding and health.

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While Frank's work is at an early stage where he is still collecting his data, it was important to give the farmers a feel for what work is taking place. Along with Fiona McGovern, this pair are key in the national research programme.

It's hard to ignore the issue of lamb price at the moment. As reported in this publication last week, cattle prices fell dramatically over the last month.

Over the course of last weekend, quoted lamb prices came down by as much as 50-60 c/kg in the space of four days. To put this in perspective, a cut of 50c/kg is equivalent to €10.75 on a 21.5kg carcass. So for every 11 lambs you sell it is almost like giving one away this week compared to last week.

It's hard to imagine another industry where your output price can fluctuate so dramatically in a short period of time.

While I don't profess to have the answer to this conundrum, and I appreciate that processors face many challenges too, it places huge pressure on producers.

Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production at Lyons research farm in UCD. Email:

Irish Independent