Weather-wise, the good Lord has a conscience. After sending us one of the worst years ever for mid-season lambing last year, he now sends us one of the best years on record.
It made it much easier to get out of bed during the night and up early in the morning. Lambs could be let out quickly and there was some grass, particularly on fields that were closed early and fertilised.
Sheep farmers should review their lambing management and, in doing so, concentrate on the one or two issues that gave rise to most problems.
I will give a little rundown on the problems we encountered over the last two years. A reasonably high proportion of the flock has triplets and the lambs are reared on the ewes. During the first few days, we tend to top up small triplet lambs with milk replacer so that they can compete with their siblings on let-out.
The major problem encountered last year related to the use of an untried and untested milk replacer. Lambs became bloated, were unable to defecate and basically developed symptoms resembling watery mouth, even though they had received ample colostrum. It took a while (as well as visits to the vet) to figure out what was wrong, but once we reverted to the traditional milk replacer, the problem ceased.
With all the legislation, I find it difficult to understand how companies can market such products without some independent research. I, for my part, should have concentrated a little more on the words of Alexander Pope when going to school: "Be not the first by whom the New are try'd, Nor yet the last to lay the Old aside."
This year, the problems were not on the same scale, but nevertheless some were most annoying. A number of ewes were lost through prolapsing the intestines through the vaginal wall. Nobody seems to know the underlying reasons behind this condition. It is generally a sporadic condition but from the number of calls I received over the last number of months there seems to have been a higher incidence of it this year.
Some of the pre-disposing factors postulated include: association with vaginal prolapse, overfat ewes, high meal levels, triplet pregnancies and adhesions or damage from a previous difficult lambing. Should anybody have their own particular theory or ways of preventing this condition we would all be particularly interested in hearing it.
This brings me to the two most annoying conditions that occurred this year -- inturned eyelids (entropion) and crooked or contracted tendons (arthrogryposis). We have had some incidences of these conditions most years, but there was a significant increase in the incidence of entropion this year. It was mostly confined to the progeny of one or both of two Charollais rams that I purchased last autumn.
Contracted tendons is often associated with the progeny of Suffolk rams and is quite common in some pedigree flocks of the breed. It results in lambs walking on their fetlocks.
These conditions are a real nuisance, as they require time to treat and can result in a two to five-day delay in letting out. Where triplet lambs are being retained on the ewe, they can be a real disaster. Lambs with inturned eyelids (particularly both eyes) seem to spend a lot of their time lying down, while those with contracted tendons cannot keep pace with their siblings and are likely to perish.
On the positive side, both conditions are inherited and so can be easily eliminated. Unfortunately, there is no blood test available yet for either condition. The only option available is for breeders to keep accurate records and to cull rams that produce offspring with these conditions.
I would suggest that Sheep Ireland should incorporate these conditions (particularly entropion) as part of their sheep breeding programmes. I may be wrong (I have no figures) but the incidences of entropion seem to have increased significantly since the 1980s.
Andrew Kinsella is a Wicklow sheep farmer and a former Teagasc sheep specialist