Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

Lyons ready for season as lambing trials set to start

If the weather is good, ewes and lambs will go out to grass at 48 hours old
If the weather is good, ewes and lambs will go out to grass at 48 hours old
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

This is the busiest week of the year for the sheep flock at UCD's research farm at Lyons, with around 300 ewes and ewe lambs expected to have lambed down by Saturday.

Luckily we have a group of 24 students from UCD who have volunteered to help out in the 24-hour supervision, in addition to the Lyons farm staff, with Stephen Lott and Philip Brady in charge during the days and nights respectively. This year's volunteers are a mixture of mainly second year Agricultural Science and Veterinary Medicine students.

The Lyons flock is predominantly a Belclare cross, but for teaching purposes we keep a number of different breeds, including Swaledale, Blackface Mountain, Mule, Greyface, Cheviot, Suffolk, Suffolk cross, Beltex, Texel, Charollais and Vendeen. We also have a Border Leicester ram and a Bluefaced Leicester ram this year, so we are going to produce our own Mules and Greyfaces.

All of the ewes were inseminated by laparoscopic AI this year for the second time. This means the semen is deposited directly into the horns of the uterus, with a view to giving a higher conception rate. Welsh operator Innovis managed to get more than 350 ewes artificially inseminated in one day.

Dr Alan Fahey, our animal breeding specialist, is using the Lyons flock as part of Sheep Ireland's central progeny testing programme, and the flock was bred using nine rams from five breeds -- Texel, Belclare, Vendeen, Charollais and Suffolk.


At birth, the lambing difficulty, weight and sex will be recorded for each lamb and used to collate information on the sires.

The ewes were housed slightly earlier than usual, in December, due to the poor weather conditions and, following scanning, were batched and fed according to litter size. Twin-carrying hoggets and ewes were fed 0.75-0.8kg of meal and single-carrying ewes got 0.6kg.

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Our litter size at Lyons is quite high now, at two lambs per ewe, so there is a lot of fostering work to be done at lambing.

As soon as a ewe lambs down, she is moved into an individual pen and what she has determines what happens next.

With fostering, we try to match lambs for size, so if a ewe has a big single we will take that off her and give her two smaller triplets or quads instead. It works better than giving her a small triplet with her big single because the triplet will get left behind once they go out to grass.

The success of fostering can depend on the students to a large extent. In fairness, they are usually excellent and we get two lambs per ewe out to grass.

This year, about 80 lambs will be fed colostrum by stomach tube while their dam's udder is covered by a cloth bib to prevent suckling. This is part of a trial looking at colostrum yield and quality. The ewe will be milked by hand after administering oxytocin.

We aim to give each lamb 50ml of colostrum per kilogramme liveweight of its own mother's colostrum one hour, 10 hours and 18 hours after birth. The minimum we would feed is 20ml/kg liveweight.


If the weather is good, the ewes and lambs will go out to grass at about 48 hours old and all will be out on grass by this Saturday at the latest. They will be stocked according to litter size and broken into groups of 30-35 ewes to graze the silage ground until early next month.

We initially keep the groups small and build them up as the week progresses. They will then move onto the hill at Lyons running as a single flock, where they will rotate around four or five paddocks.

All lambs are weaned at 12-13 weeks in mid June. Lambs are selected according to weight, averaging around 44-46kg, but we would never really select a lamb below 40-42kg liveweight for sale, aiming for a 21kg carcass.

Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer with Lyons Research Farm, UCD

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