Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Rate of 1.89 lambs/ewe encouraging as lambing season fast approaching

Pictured at the national hill sheep farmers conference at the West Lodge Hotel, Bantry, Co Cork was Billy Kelleher, Cork South regional manager Teagasc, with speakers Frank Heinz and Ciaran Lynch of Teagasc and Michael O'Doherty of UCD
Pictured at the national hill sheep farmers conference at the West Lodge Hotel, Bantry, Co Cork was Billy Kelleher, Cork South regional manager Teagasc, with speakers Frank Heinz and Ciaran Lynch of Teagasc and Michael O'Doherty of UCD

Dr Tommy Boland

Lambing at Lyons will take place in six weeks' time. Ewes were scanned in late December and, like many farmers around the country, I'm glad to report an increase in litter size, conception rate to first service and overall conception rate.

For the mature ewes, the scanned litter size was 1.89 lambs per ewe. This is calculated for all ewes which were mated. This group had a conception rate of 93pc and conception to AI service of 79pc.

This is a significant improvement on the last three years and leaves us with many more triplet lambs to manage.

Our ewe lambs scanned 1.05 lambs/ewe (again, this was calculated on all ewe lambs mated) with an 80pc conception rate. Of the ewes (349) that went to the ram, 7pc are barren, 18pc are carrying singles, 55pc twins and 20pc triplets or more. We will certainly be reaching for our Volac Ewe 2 feeder again this year. The 7pc barren rate is too high but seems to be part of the system we are currently operating.

Our ewes have more or less retained the body condition score (BCS) they had at mating. At scanning time the flock averaged BCS of 3.2 with 80pc in the range of 3-3.5.

We are feeding a straight forward mix of barley, wheat distillers and soya hulls, with minerals and a small amount of molasses to give a 14pc protein ration. Both citrus pulp and beet pulp are difficult to get at value this year.


The singles are receiving silage only (77pc DMD) at the moment, the twins are on 500g per day and will remain at this throughout gestation and the triplets are also on 500g but this will build as pregnancy progresses. Protein content will be increased to 18/19pc for the last three weeks of lambing.

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I recently had an opportunity to meet with an excellent discussion group in Enniscorthy.

As you would expect, pregnancy feeding was the hot topic of conversation and discussions swung around to maximum inclusion levels of home grown cereals, especially barley and oats. It's fair to say that there is a lot of uncertainty in this area. Recommendations for barley range from a maximum level of 40pc right up to 80pc plus.

It is clear farmers are succeeding right up at this high level. However, care must be taken with this level of cereal, particularly very late in pregnancy.

There must be sufficient fibre in the diet and I recommend at least half (though perhaps all) of the grain should be whole, and that all animals have access to the feed space at a time. I will cover this in more detail in next month's special lambing feature in the Farming Independent.

As we have always done since Frank Crosby first investigated winter shearing 30 years ago, our ewes were shorn on January 15.

There are no issues with lameness currently, although four ewes did require antibiotic treatment. This was recorded electronically on the Psion EID reader and repeat offenders will be culled.

This is a major advantage of the EID readers; you can have your information to hand on all animals, though recording is of the utmost importance.

The repeats are still outdoors and obviously are still fully fleeced. They are grazing forage rape at the moment, but we will remove them from this at least six weeks before they lamb to avoid any issues around elevated lamb mortality which can sometimes be presented with brassica crops.

Things are busy enough on a sheep farm around lambing time, but things are made more interesting at Lyons as a result of the experiments which we carry out at this time. Our students Frank Campion and Fiona McGovern are in the middle of preparations for their studies once again.

This year Fiona is focusing on the relationship between ewe mineral intake in late pregnancy and the lamb's ability to fight disease in early life.

This is an area where we have conducted a lot of work in recent years and Fiona is bringing a range of new technologies to the table to try and discover what is taking place.

Frank is focused on grass intake in early lactation, milk production potential of the ewe, milk quality and how they influence lamb performance.

There is a massive amount of work in both these projects so Frank and Fiona are resigned to spending most of the next four months inside the walls of Lyons.

Dr Tommy Boland lectures in sheep and ruminant nutrition at UCD's Lyons research farm at Newcastle, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

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