Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

Light at end of tunnel as lambs are thriving with grass growth

My lambs are thriving. The boost in grass growth over the last month has really helped them on and there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, I am still behind on the amount of lambs that I would like to have sold.

I can see that over the next three to four weeks, they will catch up and I should be heading towards having the majority of my lambs out of here by early November.

That been said, the kill out of my lambs has been disappointing this year. Ram lambs that seemed fleshy at 46kg plus are averaging 19.5kg carcass weight.

It seems to be an issue for a lot of people this year. I can only read with admiration John Large's article last week where he is drafting castrated ram lambs at 43kg live and achieving an average carcass kill out of 20.5kg and also finishing them off typhon. This is something that I need to sort out for next year.

I have been busy vaccinating my ewes for Schmallenberg virus. I bit the bullet and bought the vaccine. As I mentioned last month, I was in two minds about doing it, but I suppose I was grasped by the fear of a potential disaster next spring.

I also gave the ewes a vitamin and cobalt mineral dose. I had been contemplating a bolus this year, but they are expensive and the dose is working out at 30c/ewe.


Cobalt deficiency is definitely a problem on the farm, so in the run up to letting out the rams for next season, I would like to have the ewes really thriving.

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I still have a lot to do before I let the rams out. Over the next while, I will be foot bathing my ewes and keeping on top of scalds that can knock them back.

I try to condition score all the ewes as best I can. It's a tricky task being too fussy about 1,100 sheep, but generally the thinner ladies will get onto better grass in the run up to letting them out with the ram and I intend to keep them there until they are housed. I am continuously keeping an eye on potential culls and the continuous price drop of lamb is making my decision to keep less sheep this year a lot easier.

The nip in the air over the last while is really signalling the onset of autumn and the dreaded winter. I got out all the remaining fertiliser on the farm and I hope to build up a nice bank of grass for the winter.

I need to start thinking about lambing date and closing up fields in late October to have enough grass for ewes and lambs at turn out next spring.

Frank Hynes, a Teagasc sheep specialist who attended our STAP meeting last week, indicated that we should be aiming to close off fields for 120 days prior to turnout.

The amount of land you close off depends on the amount of sheep you have. The general guideline for this is one acre for every five ewes.

Therefore, we should aim to be closing off roughly 20ac for every 100 ewes 120 days prior to lambing.

This is a helpful reminder of the importance of managing your grass in autumn. There is still a lot to be done on the farm in order to be able to close off significant parts of it. I need to move lambs off so they are not hanging around robbing grass from the ewes. I made this mistake last year and I wouldn't like to repeat it again.

The STAP meeting that took place on the farm last week was the last of the year for our group. Overall, I have found it a very positive experience as it is making me confront issues on the farm that I would otherwise neglect.

It is also helpful and encouraging and it is good to know that a lot of problems, no matter how big or small your flock, can be quite similar from farm to farm.

I have chosen as part of my tasks to do the profit monitor and flock health plan for this year. These are areas that I need to focus on.

Finally, I would like to thank David Webster and Frank Hynes from Teagasc who have been very helpful to me and our STAP group over the last year.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath. Email:

Irish Independent