Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Preparation pays dividends

Michael Gottstein

Over the next few weeks many of the sheep flocks across the country will start lambing where this has not already happened.

From a labour point of view, lambing comes at a very busy time on most farms. So what steps can be taken to make the job a little easier? We often hear people in other sectors talking about improving productivity and sheep farmers should be no different.

When I started as an adviser at Teagasc, a senior adviser told me that every bit of advice I gave should do either one of two things: increase profits and/or save labour. When preparing for the impending lambing season these criteria should be borne in mind when planning changes to your system.

Your aim should be to have everything set up so that routine tasks can be carried out as efficiently and quickly as possible, while at the same time not compromising on animal care or performance.

The first step in your preparation is to sort out the lambing area. Where will lambing be taking place? Will it be indoors or outdoors?

Outdoor lambing works well if there is plenty of grass and shelter in the field. In the run-up to lambing, ewes can be fed supplementary concentrates.

However, once lambing starts, meal feeding can result in mis-mothering as ewes will leave their newborn lambs to eat meals.

This means that you have to have enough grass to get the flock through lambing without having to go in with meals. The big benefit of outdoor lambing is that the ewes feed, bed and water themselves and all the shepherd has to worry about is the lambing process and care of the newborn lambs.

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In addition, outdoor lambing provides the newborn lambs with a pretty clean environment without the build-up of infections that occur with indoor lambing. The big downside is that both the shepherd and the newborn lambs are exposed to the elements.

For outdoor lambing, a few simple facilities should be available to make life easier and help reduce losses. The lambing paddock should have a few pens strategically placed to help the shepherd catch any ewes that need assistance. In addition, a facility to accommodate problem cases and foster surplus lambs will also be required.

Indoor lambing flocks will need to have an area set up for lambing pens. Ideally each pen should be 1.5m x 1.5m (5ft x 5ft) and there should be at least one pen for every 10 ewes in the flock. Very compact lambing flocks/synchronised lambing flocks will need more pens -- in extreme cases one pen for every two to three ewes in the flock.

The area chosen for lambing pens should be convenient to the sheep. It should, however, also be conveniently located so that it can be easily accessed for feeding and cleaning out. Small poky houses are not ideal.

I find small bales of straw are ideal for bedding lambing pens as the straw from these is less likely to wrap around the ewes' legs. A barrel or some other large container that can dispense water quickly is essential to cut down on the time it takes to fill buckets of water for individual pens.

Each pen should be fitted with troughs or a water bucket and meal bucket/container. I find a one litre plastic jug, which will hold just short of 1kg of ewe nuts, is ideal for dispensing meals to ewes in individual pens. By using a jug you can accurately feed the ewes and it avoids ewes being overfed and going off their feed.

Feeding, bedding and watering sheep in individual pens in addition to the other jobs that have to be done every day is where a lot of valuable time is lost during lambing time.

Any changes that can be implemented to reduce the amount of time spent on these tasks will allow more time to be spent at other jobs, such as lambing the ewes.

After the accommodation has been arranged, the next step is to stock up on all the necessary medicines and supplies that will be required. Go through what you bought last year; check what you still have in stock but keep and eye on expiry dates of products left over from last year.

Being well organised here will help you save lambs during the lambing season. Remember that some of the products you will need may not be routinely kept in stock by your veterinary stockist.

Also remember that you only have one shot at lambing. Every sheep farmer will lose lambs during this period but, by being well organised, extra effort can be concentrated on looking after the ewes and lambs, thereby minimising losses and maximising the profit potential of this year's crop.

Irish Independent