Lambing season pressure has eased for now

It's springtime again, and lambs are frolicking.
It's springtime again, and lambs are frolicking.
John Large

John Large

Now that the main lot of ewes have lambed, the pressure is off for at least a week. They decided to start five days earlier March 1. The last ewe lambed on March 17, so over 17 days we had 470 ewes lambed with 850 live lambs. Most are out in the fields, but there are still some in the shed. This works out at an average of 26 ewes lambed per day, but with a peak of 80 on the wettest day, down to just one on Paddy's Day.

Ewes had plenty of milk, with most lambs getting up quickly and sucking by themselves. Only a few ewes were short of milk, mostly Suffolk ewes with twins. Mothering ability covers everything from whether the ewe licks the lamb to allowing the lamb to suck and bond with her.

We had a few cases where the ewe would only bond with one of her lambs, but a few days in a head gate seemed to cure the problem. Sometimes a hogget ewe was reluctant to lick her lambs, but once they were put under a heat lamp for a few hours and made suck the mother, they worked on from there themselves.

In relation to lamb vigour my opinion is that this trait is mostly governed by the weight of the lamb at birth. I know you can have some lambs weighing over 6kg that seem dopey after birth, but they fly once they figure out that drinking milk is key to their survival.

The real problem for me was ewes with small twins or triplet lambs that were easily missed by their mothers. These lambs needed to be stomach tubed for their first feed and took plenty of care for the next few days.

Even now at nearly three weeks old, these are still uneven and look small for their age. Time will tell whether this problem is from the ram or the mother. The biggest issue with these small lambs is the amount of space they take up in individual pens as they cannot be put in group pens for three or four days - this only adds to their already high labour input.

Lambing difficulty was not a big issue, except that as we got near to the finish the twin lambs got bigger and we had a lot more lambs presenting with one front leg and a head. The other leg had to be either got up beside the head or we lambed the ewe by using the leg already visible and the shoulder of the other leg which was held back.

We had three visits to the vet, one with a lamb that was deformed, while the other two were ewes that presented with twisted wombs. These two had to have a caesarean section with both producing dead single lambs. We never had this problem before and I think that it may have been caused by the fact that their pen was not cleaned out before lambing. Why would this affect them?

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When they were eating their meal the ewes were on their knees, which meant that they could have been pushed by other ewes. Maybe this has nothing to do with it, but next year all pens will be cleaned out.

As far as disease goes this year, we've had no joint-ill in lambs whatsoever. There were a few cases of watery mouth, we had one case of mastitis, a lamb with pneumonia and a lamb with a broken leg, all of which I'm glad to report have survived.

We did have losses however. When lambs from ewes that aborted are included, along with ewes that died before lambing and lambs that were lost during lambing, our losses stand at eight lambs from every 100 lambs born, with less than 40pc of these dying after birth.

The most frustrating deaths were when a ewe lay down on one of her lambs in the individual pens, or worse again, when the lambs were outside with plenty of grass and Mr Fox came calling.

We have had more trouble with these furry creatures this year than previously. We keep in the lambs for a couple of extra days now so they have a better chance of escaping. But being up early lambing and out at night trying to nail a few fox tails was turning me into a wreck.

Next week our repeat ewes and ewe-lambs start to lamb. If we go as well as the first lot I will be happy. The twin ewes are on 0.5kg of meal, with the singles getting just good silage. The ewe-lambs are outside getting silage and 0.4kg of meal. They also have access to high energy feed buckets.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary

jlarge@ independent.ie

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