Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Pay particular attention to feeding ahead of lambing yearling hoggets

John Shirley

It's my impression that there are extra yearling hoggets due to lamb this spring. Last summer breeding ewes were so scarce and so dear that flock owners switched to buying ewe lambs or else kept back more of their own ewe lambs and ran them with a ram.

Now comes the time of reckoning as many, for the first time, face lambing these yearlings.

How do we manage and feed them as the lambing date nears?

Yearling hoggets are still growing in their own right so they must be kept strong. This means starting to feed earlier and feeding at a lower level over a longer period than with mature ewes.

We want the young mothers with enough milk to rear their lambs. On the other hand, we do not want to promote big baby lambs which can bring horrific lambing problems.

How do we strike a balance?

I raised these issues with farmers who have gone through these hoops with yearling hoggets in previous years.

If not already done, pregnant hoggets should be scanned. Identify those that are idle, those carrying singles and especially those that are carrying twins. Twin pregnancies are quite common in hoggets with Belclare breeding and these will need special management.

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Three people I spoke to have outwintered their pregnant yearling hoggets with the intention of housing them when the rest of the flock has lambed and shed space is released.

The hoggets have been trained to take meals and levels fed depend on the grass supply and the condition of the sheep. Once housed, the singles get about 1lb of meals with 2lbs for the twins.

A Carlow farmer who has lambed Borris-type hoggets for a number of years offers those carrying singles good silage and only a shake of meals -- less than 0.2 kg/hd/day as lambing approaches. However, those carrying twins will get close to a kilogramme of concentrate per head per day given in two feeds in the lead into lambing. The condition of the hoggets will be assessed on an ongoing basis and changes made in light of trends in condition.

Two weeks after lambing the creep feeders are introduced to the hoggets which are rearing young lambs. This keeps the lambs going and helps avoid a big batch of 'tailenders'. Also, it takes pressure off the hoggets and allows them to recover faster for the next mating.

When it comes to the actual lambing, these young ewes will need extra supervision. If intervention is needed it is desirable that the operator has small, tidy hands. Definitely have lots of lubrication gel on hand when handling a hogget.

It takes extra time for a hogget to bond with her offspring, and getting her to accept two lambs is even trickier, but once formed, the bond between a hogget and progeny can be very strong.

Hopefully the yearling hoggets will have got their anti-clostridial jabs. Hogget ewes are also vulnerable to abortion either from toxoplasmosis or enzootic type. Unfortunately, the vaccines against both abortions were scarce and many flocks are now on a wing and a prayer. At this stage, there's little that can be done about toxo apart from keeping cats away from the feed and the bedding. enzootic abortion is less prevalent than Toxo but if a case is identified the rest of the flock will get a measure of protection from a long-acting oxytet.

Ideally, a lab test is needed to distinguish between toxo and Enzootic abortion. With toxo, the afterbirth is fresher with yellow spots; if enzootic is present you need to get in immediately with the long-acting antibiotic. This should be repeated in 2-3 weeks. This antibiotic should also clear up any lameness in the hoggets. I'm told that some British flockowners use the antibiotic approach rather than vaccine to control enzootic abortion. But surely this will promote antibiotic resistance.

John Shirley farms at Fighting Cocks, Co Carlow

Indo Farming