Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Is later lambing the way forward?

There was a slow start to the lambing on Michael Duffy's farm in Donegal

A significant number of farms may be better off if lambing did not begin until March 22. Getty Images.
A significant number of farms may be better off if lambing did not begin until March 22. Getty Images.

John Cannon

The rams were joined with the flock on October 25 and lambing began on March 18, but one week later there were only 30 ewes lambed instead of the expected 100 on Michael Duffy's farm at Kerrykeel, around 35km north of Letterkenny.

"From March 23-29 the lambing rate picked up to about 15-20 per day, but as of April 5 there are only 170 ewes and 17 hoggets lambed or about 53pc," said Michael.

"The weather was dry since St Patrick's Day until last weekend there was no significant grass growth so it is all for the better that lambing was not as compact as in 2014.

"This time last year I had 400 ewes lambed, with low enough body condition, struggling for milk and no grass. At present I have 85 ewes out, all lambing with adequate body condition, loads of milk and 'enough' grass.

"The weather has not been favourable for grass growth but it has been suitable for turning out ewes and lambs after lambing.

"Another positive this year is that ewes are lambing down with good milk supply which reduces the workload and leaves less pet lambs to be attended to," said Michael.

Lambing losses have been about normal and while there were 12 lambs still-born between scanning and the start of lambing, Michael did not consider it too unusual.

The majority of the flock was vaccinated against Toxoplasma and Enzootic abortion so these still births could be due to genetic, handling, head butts or other bacterial causes of abortion. Losses at or post lambing are no more than 10pc but I will have a more accurate figure in the next report.

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In my previous report I outlined how Michael had decided to feed approx. 0.27kg/ ewe/ day of barley from housing in order to prevent the drop in body condition that occurred in the spring of 2015. Michael says that "this decision has worked and the body condition scores (BCS) of his ewe flock is currently in excess of 3.0".

Like all mid-season sheep farms Michael was concentrating on feeding the ewes, which saw feeding increased gradually by about 0.1kg/ewe/week.

Just before lambing, Michael said the flock was being fed at the following rates.

For those bearing triplets they were getting 1.1kg/day, twin bearing ewes 0.9kg/day, single bearing ewes 0.5kg/day, while ewe lambs were being fed 1.0kg./day. During the last four weeks of pregnancy the ration fed was one of 17pc CP and the ingredients consisted of 20pc soyabean meal; 30pc barley, 25pc maize, 20pc beet pulp and 5pc molasses and minerals.

Vaccines and Dosing

The flock was given the pre-lambing clostridial booster vaccine in mid-February. The next treatment will be a nematodirus dose to the lambs in early May and a fluke dose to the ewe flock at the same time.

Grassland management

Due to the very wet weather encountered during February and early March it was not possible to spread any early nitrogen in Donegal until March 12.

Michael spread 25 units of units of nitrogen on March 15 on two thirds of his farm.

This was spread as urea on fields with good levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) or as 18.6.12 on fields that are below Index 3 for P and K.

He spread 25 units of nitrogen on the remaining third of his farm, which has heavier soils, on March 23. The table shows the grass heights on the Ballymagowan farm on March 23 using a plate meter. This table also shows the grass heights as measured on January 14 and reported in my previous report.

According to Michael "the grass covers are closely related to the closing dates but it also shows how bad the weather has been here since January.

"Indeed some exposed fields had grass tips 'burned' by cold wind so the current height is just about the same as in mid-January."

Purchased Store Lambs

All but the last 100 of the 1,250 store lambs purchased have now been sold. Indeed these remaining lambs will be sold over the next two weeks so there will little or no distraction from the lambing shed.

General advice

The weather encountered this spring and indeed over the last few years leads me to comment that for most farmers mid-season lambing in Donegal should not begin until March 15 as very few have adequate grass to justify going earlier.

Indeed there are a significant number of farms who may be better off if lambing did not begin until March 22.

The weather at present is fine for turning out ewes and lambs but there is no significant growth due to low temperatures and wet fields so most farmers will have significant feed bills as a consequence.

John Cannon is a Teagasc advisor based in Letterkenny

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