Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Ram lambs can burn out after first season

John Fagan

John Fagan

With the shearing done and the silage cut, my lambs are gradually getting fit. However, it's happening a lot slower than last year.

I am weaning everything this week. I left it a little bit later than other years to try and maximise the number of lambs drafted off the ewes. As soon as they are weaned, I will dip and separate the ram and ewe lambs, putting the ram lambs on meal in order to push them on.

The ewe lambs I usually sell off throughout the year as the Texel and Suffolk-cross Mule ewe lambs make great replacements and each year more and more farmers are finding them easy to work with.

The live trade has kept a solid base price of €5.40/kg until now, but this will need to continue to offset the massive costs incurred last spring. The latest price changes is a worrying development however.

With the stability in the price, I am tending to let the lambs get into bigger weights. Other years, I would generally draft lambs at 38-40kg. A friend of mine encouraged me to hold on a bit longer. He made the valid point that having gotten the lambs this far, should I not keep them a little bit longer and maximise the kill out? They are thriving well, lameness is not a problem and grass is plentiful, so from now on 43kg is the target drafting weight.

Cobalt deficiency

I will also be giving all my lambs a cobalt bolus. When I did a soil test last January, I did a trace element test on some of the fields and they came up cobalt deficient.

I had suspected this. I had noticed a certain amount of crustiness forming on the lambs' ears and this, I am told, is symptomatic of a lack of cobalt.

Also Read

I treated these lambs with the bolus and the improvement was remarkable.


Post-weaning I generally try to get into the frame of mind of preparing the flock for next year's lambing season. After the ewes have dried off I will go through them, condition scoring them, putting the thinner ones on better grass and selling off the culls.

I will also set about getting the rams in order and I usually buy in a few new ones.

I aim to buy hogget rams from breeders that I have come to rely on each year. The hogget ram by comparison to the ram lamb is better able to cope with his job in the first year.

Running a ram lamb can lead to its own problems by virtue of the fact that they can burn themselves out after one year.

As the majority of my flock is either Mule or Mule-cross ewes, I tend to look for a ram with lots of muscle. To avoid crossbreeding, I cross Texel and Suffolks with my Mule ewes, and I cross Charolais rams with my Texel and Suffolk-cross ewes.

I also have a couple of Isle de France rams, which I have to say I am very happy with.


While the dry weather is a welcome relief I can see drought now becoming a problem.

A little bit of rain would not go astray, just as long as it didn't forget to stop.

Getting around to top everything is a time-consuming task, especially in a tractor whose air conditioning system seems to be stuck on maximum heat. I am nearly afraid to touch it in case it gets stuck on cold for next winter when I think I'll need it most.

Some of the fields that I topped already have gotten stemmy again and I will have to re-do them.

I also closed off another 30ac for second-cut silage which should be harvested in late August. I still don't have enough fodder for next year. I am hoping to get enough from this second cut and perhaps a few other fields later in September.

I will also buy in straw. Straw can be as good as poor quality silage and I am sure that if the summer continues as it is, good dry straw will be plentiful.

In the meantime, I am trying to get all my work done as soon as I can in the morning, so that I can take the time to enjoy the fantastic weather.

John Fagan is a sheep farmer from Co Westmeath. Email:

Irish Independent