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Independent.ie

Sunday 21 January 2018

Out of 877 births, lambs ranged in from a hefty 8.2kg single down to a 1.5kg quad

A file photograph of a Suffolk lamb: there were 877 births on the farm of John Large.
A file photograph of a Suffolk lamb: there were 877 births on the farm of John Large.
John Large

John Large

Lambing is as good as finished with only 20 ewes left. It was a hard month's work, but we were very lucky with the weather.

The very busy week of lambing was dry and we were able to put out lambs every day. As ewes and lambs were put out to grass they were left in small groups of less than 20 ewes with their lambs in each field. This helps to stop lambs being mis-mothered in the first few days.

When the lambs were two weeks old these groups were joined together to make a group of 70 ewes and twin lambs. These will be increased to 150 for summer as soon as there's enough grass to stop feeding meal. We are feeding all twin-rearing ewes 0.5kg of meal. This is being fed once per day using a feeder behind the quad.

The group with triplets are getting 1kg of meal twice per day. We are feeding an 18pc crude protein nut onto the grass. Ground conditions are not ideal but there is no way we could feed using troughs.

The quad and feeder is the ideal way of feeding, with the hardest part being getting in and back out through the gate. But this is a small price in comparison to the hardship of dragging bags of meal through 70 ewes.

We have enough grass for the next week but re-growth has been very slow. It looks like we will end up feeding meal for another 10 days at least.

We will also go with more fertiliser now if the heavy rain holds off. We're using a pasture sward compound at one and half bags per acre. Most of the farm was already spread on March 7 with a bag of urea, but it is this late application of urea that has left us short of grass now. Normally, we would have nitrogen on in February.

As one of Sheep Ireland's monitor farms, I dare say that we have some of the best lambing records in the country.

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Out of 877 births recorded, they were more or less divided equally between male and female. We had 134 singles tagged with an average weight of 5.76kg. There were 242 twins with an average weight of 4.8kg, 81 triplets at 3.96kg and four quads at an average weight of 2.74kg.

Extremes

Our overall average weight across all lambs was 4.71kg, with the extremes here ranging from a hefty 8.2kg to a little quad weighing just 1.5kg. We fostered on a lot of the triplets to single ewes with plenty of milk.

This was done as the single was lambing, by manually lambing the ewe onto a plastic bag with the lamb to be fostered restrained by the legs and well covered in the ewe's lambing fluids. Our success rate overall was more than 80pc, with about 30 lambs fostered this way.

We also recorded lambing assistance: from 134 singles, 21 ewes required some assistance.

This varied from minimal help in some cases to one ewe who had a caesarean section. For the twins, 33 got assistance of some form, while more than a third of the triplets needed some help. The assistance required varied and was recorded accordingly.

The singles' problems arose from mostly big lambs in the last few days of lambing.

The twins and triplets needed help with things such as front legs down, head back or a lamb presenting with its hind legs coming first which seemed to happen a lot with triplets. We could not say any one breed caused most of the problems, but I do know that both ewes taken to the vet were Texel crosses in-lamb to a Suffock ram.

The other problems we encountered were a few cases of E-coli in lambs born either to mothers without enough colostrum, or where there was both a big and a small lamb born as a set of twins.

Problem

The problem with the latter was invariably that the bigger one kept getting all the milk.

We also had a few cases of joint-ill, but most of these lambs were cured using a course of daily antibiotic injections for one week.

We've found that any shorter course of treatment ended up with the lamb going lame again.

I reckon the best way to treat joint-ill is to bring in the lamb and its mother indoors. This saves you running rings trying to catch the lamb by day three or four of treatment, when he has normally gotten better - and a lot cuter.

But the most frustrating problem were some hogget ewes that lambed and refused to let their lambs suck.

They would lick the lambs alright but when the lamb tried to find the teat she would just push them away. We had to restrain them in a head gate for a few days until she got used to the lambs feeding.

I am also convinced that these young mothers aren't really producing enough milk to rear twins because when I'm feeding the meal, I notice most of the lambs are coming to eat a few nuts.

It proves that a ewe in her first lactation does not produce as much milk as later in life.

She really needs every bit of supplementation for the first few weeks after lambing, even when grass is plenty.

It's for this reason, and the fact that some of them can be shy feeders, that we keep them in their own group for a few extra weeks after lambing.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary. Email: jlarge@independent.ie

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