Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

Preparations and experimentation commence for lambing

Tom Staunton

A very happy new year to all. I'm just about recovered after the Christmas festivities and am now getting ready for what will hopefully be a busy and successful new year.

In December I got John Scarry to scan the Pedigree Bluefaced Leicesters, Mule ewes, embryo ewes and the Scotch Blackface ewes that were inseminated. I was delighted with this early scan. The Bluefaced Leicester ewes scanned 2.25 lambs/ewe for 25 ewes, with one ewe scanned with five lambs. It will certainly be interesting when this ewe is ready to lamb down.

The Mule ewes scanned 1.98 lambs/ewe and Scotch Blackface ewes that were inseminated scanned 1.88 lambs/ewe which was exceptional for the breed. The remainder of the flock will be scanned this coming Friday but I don't expect the overall scan of the Blackface ewes to be as high. The early part of the lambing season looks set to be busy and I must get things in place now to ensure the lambing runs as smoothly as possible.

I make a checklist for myself which is useful, it tells me how prepared I am for the lambing season. The questions I ask are:

* Do I have enough lambing pens?

* Do I have the ewes grouped properly so I can feed them accordingly?

* Do I have a supply of lambing essentials? These include colostrum, stomach tube and syringe, lambing ropes, lubricant gel, disposable gloves, energy boost for ewes who could potentially get twin lamb disease, Calciject, iodine, and marking sprays for numbering lambs.

* Have I the ewes dosed correctly for fluke and for minerals and vitamins? I normally dose all the ewes for fluke at scanning and I dose all the ewes for trace minerals and vitamins six weeks before lambing.

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* Have I vaccinated the ewes?

* What feed am I going to give my ewes?

* What is the energy value and the protein content of the feed?

* Are the ewes being fed enough or too much?

* Have I enough fostering crates?

* Have I single ewes matched with triplet ewes to adopt lambs over?

* Have I enough feeding space for ewes?

* Is there a supply of clean fresh water?

* Are the lambing pens clean and disinfected?

* Do I have enough straw?

* Am I prepared for recording ewes and lambs for Lambplus? Tags, recording book and weighing scales all need to be present for the recording to be accurate.

I am trying out something different this year with the pedigree ewes. I am giving them a stabilised yeast through their feed six weeks before lambing and the same after lambing.

The reason for this is that I believe ewes with high lambing percentages find it difficult to consume enough energy in the final weeks of gestation and into the early stages of lactation to meet their energy demands. The stabilised yeast is designed for ruminants and is predominantly fed to dairy cows.

Why can't we treat sheep in the same way as dairy cows? Ruminants were not designed to eat large quantities of concentrate feeds and therefore I think that they require support in the form of a stabilised yeast to help break feed down better. If they can utilise their feed better then they will have more energy for production. If it works for cows it should work for sheep.

The Bluefaced Leicester ewes have been housed on a straw bed and are being fed hay at the moment. I will start them on concentrates this week and will gradually build up the level of feeding until they lamb to coincide with their energy demand.

Any ewes that are scanned with triplets will also be housed with the remainder of the ewes lambed outdoors. Lambing outdoors has its pros and cons. There is a lower chance of disease spreading, but it means I have to jump from field to field to keep an eye on everything. I have often thought of building a large shed so I can lamb down all my ewes inside. I don't think I will do this unless the weather of last spring returns year after year. Let's hope it doesn't.

Tom Staunton farms at Tourmakeady, Co Mayo. Email:

Irish Independent