Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

Lambing in full swing but struggling to get the balance of feeding just right

With the arrival of the first mule ewe lambs, the lambing season is now in full swing.

I hope this trend continues and that I'll have many ewe lambs for our annual sale at the end of August.

All but six of the mule ewes have lambed down. The lambed ewes are out on grass and their Beltex lambs are continuing to thrive well, as the ewes have plenty of milk.

Grass growth has taken a tumble as temperatures have dropped back to 3-8C during the day – with some frost at night.

I am not under pressure for grass but, if this cold spell continues, problems may arise.

Because of the reduced grass growth, I have increased concentrates to about 0.9kg/ ewe/day for twin-bearing ewes that have little fodder.

This is perhaps the cause of the increased level of prolapse I am seeing in the ewes outdoors. Some people maintain that there is less prolapse if ewes have plenty of exercise and are outdoors, but this season I have seen no difference in the number of cases indoors or outdoors.

It is difficult to find the right balance of feeding. I don't want to feed too little because the ewes will have less milk and smaller lambs, but, on the other hand, I want to reduce the number of cases of prolapse to a minimum.

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The fostering crates have been busy this spring, with many successful adoptions. If it is possible, I try to adopt a triplet lamb on to a single bearing ewe as she is lambing.

To do this, I wash the triplet lamb in salty warm water; I then tie its feet so that the lamb will not get up too quickly when the ewe is licking it.

As the ewe is lambing her own single, I ensure that the amniotic fluid covers the lamb. I then pull the single lamb and rub the lamb over the triplet lamb. I let the ewe lick the lambs and I untie the lamb after a half an hour. In 99.9pc of cases, this is successful.

The adoption or fostering crate is very useful if I want to adopt a lamb on to a ewe that loses a lamb.

A ewe that loses a lamb is often more keen to take a lamb than a ewe that already has one of their own. After about a day or two, the ewe will usually take to the lamb.

My Bluefaced Leicester lambs are three to four weeks old at this stage. They have all been dosed with Vecoxan to prevent coccidiosis, since lambs from four to six weeks of age are most at risk.

I have dosed against coccidiosis for the past number of years since I had problems with this parasitic infection. It causes severe cases of diarrhoea, which is often bloody and grey in colour.

The problem only arose in lambs that were indoors for a prolonged period. On my farm, it resulted in failure to thrive, bloody diarrhoea, rapid weight loss and profuse scouring as the lambs' digestive absorption capacity was inhibited

To prevent the disease indoors, I keep clean fresh straw under the lambs and ewes and ensure that water and feed supplies are clean and fresh.

Hopefully I will keep it at bay so the lambs continue to thrive.


I'm glad to see that some confidence has been restored in the hogget trade. Prices have increased, with some factories paying up to €5.50/kg, which brings prices closer to last year's level.

The price lift has come at a welcome time as Easter approaches. The lift in hogget prices should give rise to a good and well deserved price for new season lamb.

I think that the Bord Bia Quality assurance scheme for sheep farmers is as important as ever and even more so since the horse DNA crisis.

Being part of the South Mayo Quality Lamb Producer group, I am Bord Bia quality assured, as are all our members.

It is a membership requirement for this group and is critically important for our marketing strategy and for maintaining lamb production at the highest standards.

Supermarket chains are insisting that the lambs they purchase are quality assured.

Sheep farmers are entitled to receive a bonus similar to the Beef Quality Assurance Scheme and should be rewarded for the highest of production standards and full traceability.

Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

Irish Independent