| 5.8°C Dublin

Scanning to set up for lambing season

Most of the ewes were scanned on December 28. We always aim to scan at this time of the year when most of the ewes are 60 days in-lamb, which is optimum for scanning. It also suits at this time of year as everyone is home for Christmas and there is plenty of help around.

Not all the ewes were scanned; ewe lambs and ewes that repeated will be scanned towards the end of this month. We have been scanning ewes for the last 20 years and use it as the basis for sorting ewes into various groups, depending on how many lambs they will have.

It is one of the first steps in planning for the new lambing season. After all the ewes are scanned, I separate the singles, twins and triplets. I winter the ewes on the driest of the ground I have. With the winter being so mild and very wet, I decided to supply ewes with high-energy feed buckets as a supplement instead of feeding meals in troughs. I thought the ground conditions were too bad to feed at troughs as too much poaching would occur.

I also separate any ewes that are in poorer condition. These ewes are put on a higher plain of nutrition and are usually housed. All ewes scanned with triplets are also housed along with the purebred Bluefaced Leicester ewes.

I have found over the years that Scotch Blackface ewes can produce as many lambs as some crossbred ewes. This year I was very happy with the results of the scanning of my Blackface ewes. They averaged 1.62 lambs per ewe, with one group that was away on grazing ground averaging 1.78 lambs per ewe with only one triplet. I was delighted with this result, since I find triplets a hindrance in spring as they require more time and attention.

I house all the ewes scanned with triplets to give these ewes much-needed attention. The Blackface hoggets scanned 1.5 lambs per ewe. We've seen no difference between those that were reared by hogget ewes and those reared by mature ewes.

We had seven ewes that didn't show in-lamb and these will be re-scanned with the ewe lambs at the end of the month. We normally give the ewes the benefit of the doubt if they are scanned blank at the first scan. Some ewes that are not in-lamb after the second scanning are culled from the flock. Younger ewes are usually given another chance the next year.

In the next two weeks, I will begin to feed the ewes that are lambing first. I plan to start off feeding 0.5kg of an 18pc protein ewe and lamb ration from Connacht Gold and increase the volume to 0.75kg closer to lambing as is required. It is important that ewes lamb down strong, hardy lambs that are able to get up quick and suckle. This is important in my flock as more than 90pc of the ewes lamb outside.

I have just finished preparing the shed for the coming season. It was cleaned out, powerwashed and disinfected. I divided the shed into 5ft x 5ft pens. These pens are useful on stormy nights and often are the difference between life and death for some lambs.

In the coming weeks, the lambing will start with the pedigree Bluefaced Leicester ewes in early February followed by the Mule ewes, and the Blackface ewes will begin lambing in the first week of March. It is the time of year for preparation and, at the moment, it feels like the calm before the storm.

Tom Staunton runs a flock of 350 ewes on 55ha on the shores of Lough Mask at Tournakeady, Co Mayo

Indo Farming