Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Hoping that effort at lambing will pay off

Tom Staunton

The lambing season has begun. For the next eight weeks or so, the farm will be busy and full of new life. Spring is a time of year that I always look forward to, anticipating what the new crop of lambs will be like. What is that ram I bought last autumn producing?

I see it as a very important time of the farming calendar as each lamb born or saved from lambing difficulty is a potential product for sale later in the year.

Sleep will be limited over the coming months as I like to check the sheep as often as I can to help reduce the number of losses. I generally get up early and check the sheep that are closest to lambing; if there is a problem, I attend to it. If not, I sneak another hour of sleep before I get up. I always check the ewes again around 10.30pm before going to bed. I believe this maximises the amount of time I can attend the ewes and hopefully reduce losses.

The lambing kicked off with the pedigree Bluefaced Leicesters on February 3 with a single ewe lamb.

A new occurrence happened on the Staunton farm the following night as two embryo transfer ram lambs were born. It was unusual to see a Mule ewe with two pedigree Bluefaced Leicester lambs and their natural mother relaxing in the shed next door. I am delighted with these lambs and it looks like the investment of AI and embryo implants has paid off. Hopefully these new lambs of top bloodlines from rams, such as Midlock Controversy and Myfyrian Blue Dragon, from Scottish flocks will help improve my flock and leave their mark like they have done in many other flocks.

Once ewes show some signs that they are about to lamb, I isolate them in 5x5 strawed pens. I monitor them and if I notice they are having difficulty I intervene. Once the ewe gives birth, I wash her teats with a sponge soaked in warm water and disinfectant.

I started doing this a few years ago. I had a problem with lambs with bacterial scours, such as E.coli scours, and I saw dirty teats from ewes that were housed as a potential source of infection to newborn lambs. I treat the navals of the lambs with a 10pc iodine solution.

If I see a weak lamb, I organise an infrared lamp that I hang over the pen, which heats up the lamb. I notice that weak lambs get stronger and thrive much better with a little heat and often the infrared light is the difference between life and death.

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I always stomach tube the Bluefaced Leicester lambs. I use colostrum from Volac. I do this as a precaution, just in case lambs don't get up and suck when I'm not around. Sometimes lambs get sleepy once they are given colostrum and often lie down, sleep and don't suckle the ewe. Because of this, if I have time, I encourage the lambs to suckle first.

This year I am recording the Bluefaced Leicester lambs for Lambplus. This involves a little extra management at lambing but it is a great management tool and is not much extra to do if you are well organised.


The process involves recording the weights of the newborn lambs, tagging them in accordance with their mother's tag, recording the lambing difficulty (ie, if the ewe required assistance at lambing or if she lambed on her own) and whether the lamb was a single or a multiple.

This information is recorded in a small notebook provided by Sheep Ireland and other information is added throughout the year to give an estimated breeding value for each lamb. This is useful for selecting ewe lambs to keep for replacements and will give a clearer picture on which sheep are the most profitable in the flock. It is a new process to me and I hope it will help me manage my flock better.

The Mule ewes will begin to lamb next week to Beltex rams. I have the triplet ewes housed and the remainder are outside, where I will lamb them.

The Blackface Mountain ewes will begin lambing after this and hopefully I will have Mule lambs and Blackface mountain lambs for replacements. All of these will again be lambed outside in well-sheltered fields.

I gather the ewes in the evening and close them into smaller fields as there is safety in numbers from predators such as fox and mink. I find the Mule and Blackface ewes are good at fending off foxes and don't give much trouble lambing .

I will check these ewes early in the morning, throughout the day and again before bedtime.

If the weather is wet and windy, I might check them late at night. It's going to be a busy, tough and tiring few weeks but hopefully all the effort will pay off when I'm sending my first draft of lambs to the factory and next September at the breeding sales.

Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

Indo Farming