Farm Ireland
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Sunday 17 December 2017

Shearing now can help ewes thrive and increase lamb crop

Oisin Tumilty, Co Down, stretches out to mind sheep at Bagenalstown Ewe Breeders' Show and Sale in Borris, Co Carlow
Oisin Tumilty, Co Down, stretches out to mind sheep at Bagenalstown Ewe Breeders' Show and Sale in Borris, Co Carlow

John O'Connor

I split my sheep flock into two groups, the first group of 100 lamb down in January and the second group of 200 lamb down in March. The ewes are mainly Suffolk crosses, with Belclare and Charollais in the mix.

I sheared the March ewes over the weekend and they will have seven weeks of wool on them when they go to the ram on October 20. This is their second time being sheared because I do all the ewes in May every year.

I find shearing those ewes now means they eat more and put on more condition, resulting in a higher lamb crop next spring. The shearing also means they are easier to handle at lambing time.

The rams will go into this bunch at a rate of one ram per 40 ewes and the rams stay with them for three to four weeks. The ewes will be scanned at 90 days and housed in mid-December. They are penned according to whether they are carrying singles, double or triplets and fed accordingly.

This bunch will lamb down from around March 15, with the majority lambed by April 1. Ewes and lambs go back out into the field after two days, depending on the weather conditions.

The early bunch of 100 ewes were flushed in July and are in super condition because this year has been so good for grass growth. Sponges were put in on August 7 and removed on August 21.

Charollais, Suffolk and Texel rams were put in last Monday week (August 23) so they will start lambing around January 14.

Being a part-time farmer, I like to put rams in on a Monday so that lambing starts on a Thursday and continues over the weekend. I take time off work to supervise the early lambing, which should be finished in five days.

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The early ewes will be scanned at 70-80 days after the ram is taken out and housed in mid-November. Again, they are penned according to litter size to allow for extra feeding of double and triplet-carrying ewes. Any repeat ewes will be held back to go into the March flock.

I will stop fields in early October so that there will be grass for these early ewes to go out a week after lambing, if the weather allows. Last year's frost was the first very bad year for early lambing ewes.

In the meantime, I weigh lambs every two weeks for sale. I sell when they reach a liveweight of 45-47kg, which translates into a carcass weight of 19.3-19.7kg.

This is my first year finishing the March lambs off grass only, with no meal fed. The concentrate feed was costing me an extra €8/lamb last year and this year the grass growth is excellent.

Lamb prices are up €10-15/hd so far this year, with top prices of €113-114/hd for the early lambs and the lowest at €88-89/hd. The savings from not feeding meal are an extra bonus on top of that.

Having said that, I will feed some meal to finish off lambs that are left over from mid- September because grass will otherwise start to get scarce in the spring.

Lambs are dosed for worms and given a cobalt/B12 dose every month and are run through the footbath at the same time. Most of this work is done in the evenings after work and at the weekend.

We made 340 round bales of silage over the weekend to feed the 28 suckler cows I also have on the farm. I finish the bulls at 15-16 months and the heifers at 18-20 months.



  • John O'Connor is a part-time farmer from Garryclogher, Cahir, Co Tipperary, and works in Teagasc, Kildalton College.


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