Poor road conditions delay winter housing
How quickly the weather can change! Early last month it was too wet to leave out cattle and now everywhere is covered in snow.
We have housed two groups of ewes, about 400 in total. The rest are still outside and getting some hay.
These would have been housed, only they are 10 miles from home and cannot be moved because of road conditions. As soon as we get a change in the weather we will move them to fodder beet tops.
The ewes inside are getting three bales of hay a day and are on straw bedding. The hay is fed using a straw chopper that blows the hay or silage into troughs along the passage way.
The bales are loaded on by tractor and loader. It is a simple way of feeding, and one that saves on straw and, more importantly, labour.
The downside of all of this is the initial price of the machine, which can be covered over a few years. However, the price of diesel is becoming a serious cost even on a livestock farm.
The lambs still left to sell are on fodder rape and getting 0.4kg of a barley/citrus mixture. Due to the frost we only move the electric netting when we get a thaw.
These lambs are also getting some silage just left out in heaps in the field. They seem to be thriving well in the dry weather. The rams were all removed on December 4 so no lambs should be born in May.
As the rams were out with the ewes for 36 days, they had two full cycles to pick up any repeats. All the ewes will be scanned before January 19.
This way it will be easy to pick off the repeat ewes and these will be let back out to grass. This will give us enough space inside to divide ewes into groups by litter size and body condition so they can be fed accordingly.
This year we have enough hay for the winter. In other years we would have used bales of silage and listeriosis was a problem. We never got that many cases, but it is really difficult to cure and it is even more difficult to identify ewes with the condition early on.
The only worry will be that the hogget ewes and ewe lambs are not vaccinated for enzootic abortion, due to it not being available before mating. So what can be done now? Do we inject them with long-acting antibiotic twice in the last six weeks of pregnancy? As I am not sure what way to go on this, I think more information should be made available to farmers on this issue.
I suspect that more sheep farmers than me are in a similar conundrum.
There is nothing more depressing than having fed ewes for three months and then see them produce small, weak lambs or no live lambs at all. In my experience, the vaccine works very well.
All abortions should be checked out by your vet because if you can find a cause there is a cure.
The vaccine is required just once in a ewe's lifetime and the cost is about €4.50/ewe.
John Large is a sheep farmer from Gortnahoe, Thurles, Co Tipperary
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