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Improved hold rate this year is probably due to better nutrition


Sean Durcan feeding his pedigree Suffolk ewes at Clonkeen, Portlaoise

Sean Durcan feeding his pedigree Suffolk ewes at Clonkeen, Portlaoise

Sean Durcan feeding his pedigree Suffolk ewes at Clonkeen, Portlaoise

The majority of the flock has been mated by now. The 100 Lanark and Lanark cross Mayo Blackface ewes that were AI'd on October 13 have been monitored over the past month for repeats and at this stage 86pc of the ewes have held.

This is an improvement on last year's 81pc hold rate at this stage. We're more than happy with this year's results so far. It also means that there will be one very busy week next March.

Bluefaced Leicester ram lambs have been running with the ewes from 12 days after AI and ewes repeated from day 12 to day 18 after AI. These lambs will be let run with the ewes for a further three weeks and will then be taken away and will be given concentrates to help recover body condition lost over the mating season.

I will leave the Scottish Blackface (Lanark type) rams with the ewes for a week or so longer. It will be interesting to see if any of these ewes will repeat on the second cycle.

The pedigree Bluefaced Leicester ewes were also AI'd and the ewes that were inseminated using frozen semen had a hold rate of 67pc whereas the ewes that were inseminated using fresh semen had a hold rate of over 90pc to date. Hopefully the ewes will stay this way.


In the remainder of the flock we have found that ewes have come into heat earlier and more compact this year than previous years.

This could have happened for several reasons but I believe that ewes have benefited from better nutrition this year.

I always try to minimise the stress on both the ewes and rams during the breeding season and especially the weeks after the ewes have been mated.

As I have stated before, having ewes dipped, dosed etc. before mating is key for minimising stress and ultimately giving better fertility and improving embryo survival.

I have selected a further 30 strong Blackface Mountain ewe lambs (50 kg approx.) for breeding. These will be mated to a Lanark ram to breed replacements for the flock.

These ewe lambs will lamb down after the main flock when I have more time to give more attention to them if needs be. The ewe lambs will get extra care over the winter and into the spring.

Once the lambs are weaned off next summer they will be given ample opportunity to recover either on high quality grass, concentrates or a combination of both.

Breeding ewe lambs is another way of improving farm output and it also reduces the cost of keeping the ewe lambs over the winter.

The lighter ewe lambs are on good quality grass and they have all received their booster shot of Heptavac P.

The weather conditions this autumn have meant that there is a large amount of grass accumulated on the farm.


Grazing this has been difficult, but there is a good reserve for the winter.

I have begun to close off some of the more sheltered and drier fields for ewes to lamb down in next spring. It is easier to do this year because grass is plentiful and I can take these fields up earlier than I probably would have in the past.

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The remainder of the wether lambs on the farm are out and are getting approximately 0.5 kg of concentrates/lamb/day. These lambs are thriving well on this and have a good supply of grass.

The recent lift in lamb prices is encouraging. It is good to see the price ahead of this time last year as long as it can be maintained over the winter.

The remaining lambs will be put indoors on a high concentrate diet for finishing. I think there is very little gain to be achieved outdoors at the moment as the weather is changing.

These lambs will be gradually built up on concentrates over a period of 10 days and will have a source of some hay as roughage.

Tommy Staunton is a sheep farmer based in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

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