John Large: Sharp lamb price drops undermine farmers' confidence
All forage for the winter is now safely in storage. The most important thing now is to keep grass growing and stock thriving.
The rain we got over the past fortnight resulted in grass growth rates increasing to over 50kg of dry matter per hectare (DM) per day. We are grazing the after-grass with the ewe-lambs before finishing it off with a mob of dry ewes.
Once the field is well grazed off, we will spread one-and-a-half bags of pasture sward or nitrogen with sulphur. The best of the factory lambs are on grass and are getting 0.3kg of meal. The main lot of lambs are on the reseeded fields with the typhon mix.
If you think grass grew well after the rain, our typhon went from plants of a miserable 4-6 inches to a field of luscious green plants which are now almost up to our knees. These lambs are getting no meal and we hope they should finish without any extra supplementation.
We will graze the field in three sections to give it a chance to recover before being grazed again. The grass has also come on well with a lot of clover which should provide good feeding for the lambs. These lambs all got a mineral dose and their second shot of HeptovacP before being put onto the new grass.
The mineral dose helps the lambs to cope with the lack of available minerals and vitamins in the fast-growing typhon. It is also important to have grass available for the lambs in case there is not enough grass in the reseed so we have access to a grass field provided as a run back from the typhon crop. The vaccine is given because a few years ago we lost some lambs to clostridia and the vaccine has cured that problem.
There are also about 120 small lambs weighing less than 30kg each. These are grazing in front of the thinner group of ewes and getting 0.3kg of meal. They are moved on when the ewes have the previous field well grazed down. My priorities with lambs now are to keep a check on worm burdens and treat when necessary, give vitamin B12 or some other product for cobalt deficiency and prevent lameness. This latter issue is the most important and can only be achieved by putting them through the foot bath every two weeks. With a new foot bath pen now on the out-farm this job is a lot easier. We can hold 50 lambs in the bath, leave them for 15 minutes and then let them out to the next pen for the solution to dry into their feet.
All the ewes have been shorn so just the ewe-lambs are left. They will be clipped this week and moved to the out-farm where they will be feed grass only. We do not intend to breed from these until they are one and half years old in the autumn of 2014.
After a long winter and a tough spring, I am glad I had no hogget ewes with lambs to look after. They are easier to keep over the winter when they are dry. In addition, when we got tight for grass in May, we were able to graze them on a stud farm which kept them going until the start of August. Hopefully we can do the same next year.
This is the start of the new sheep year with ewes being prepared for breeding. Rams must also get a good check over. We give them a dose for fluke and worms, a mineral bolus and they have their feet pared and left to soak in the foot bath for a while.
Will numbers of ewes be the same as last year? The reports of high numbers of cull ewes and rams being sold to the factory suggests that numbers will not hold up. We plan to stay as we are but aim to sell more lambs per ewe.
However it's not easy to increase production when there are dramatic price drops for your end product and input costsremain as high as ever. The one bright light is the possibility of more live exports. The few boat-loads that have gone already are helping to keep a floor under the factory price. What we really need is competition between factory and live exports.
John Large is sheep farmer from Co Tipperary. Email: email@example.com
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