Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Sheep: Calm amidst the lambing storm

John Fagan is glad to have plenty of pens amid the hectic lambing season.
John Fagan is glad to have plenty of pens amid the hectic lambing season.
John Fagan

John Fagan

I'm writing this article at 3am just back from the lambing shed. It is allowing me just a period of calm amidst the lambing storm that is taking place.

All is well though, I'm glad to have plenty of pens but it is hectic. The lambs are getting barely enough time to mother up, sucked and out to grass.

I've plenty of help which takes the pressure off and the weather is settled and mild which is a consolation. I've no choice but to get the lambs out quickly.

I always believe that they are better off outside. It's healthier and they're happier. While it is good to get them out it is vital to watch them carefully to make sure the ewes are looking after their new families.

Generally lambing is going well but it is not without its problems. It never is and it's a challenge to keep losses to a minimum.

In my last article I wrote how that so far this year I had no abortions but no sooner had I put it down on paper than I went down to the shed to find a ewe which had just aborted her lambs.

As it was quiet, I contacted my vet and got the lambs sampled in the Athlone veterinary lab and they came back positive for enzootic abortion. While it is disappointing, the case is isolated and at least I now know what the problem is and can sort it out.

The plan now is to vaccinate all replacement ewes for both toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion next august. I have to bite the bullet and deal with it.

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I got a bag of urea out over most of the farm and I expect to see the beginning of significant grass growth over the coming weeks just in the nick of time to meet the demand that my sheep and cattle will place on the farm.

I reckon by the March 20 the majority of my mature ewes will have lambed.

It is great to get them lambed in a compact period of time and out to grass and nothing gives you more satisfaction than letting out a bunch of ewes and lambs and seeing them happily bounce away with their mothers.

It's those little things that make sheep farming worth the effort.

With lambing in full swing, it is vital to be mindful of infection building up in the shed.

This can cause issues such as watery mouth, joint ill and things like that. It is largely down to lambs not getting enough colostrum.

I always make sure to fully bathe the lambs navel in iodine. I stopped using a spray a number of years ago after I had a serious problem with joint ill.

I found that the spray only got one side of the navel and therefore left one side open to infection.

Watery mouth is taken care simply by making sure the lamb has got loads of colostrum. If I have a weak lamb I will tube him with some warmed up cow colostrum.

It is not the be all and end all, but tubing a weak little lamb with 60-100mls is like giving them a 'snickers' and the energy to get up and go.

I have had some problems with ewes lambing with no milk. I was a little surprised by this so I have introduced more feed to these ewes and hopefully this will remedy the problem, but you need to be vigilant making sure that after a ewe has lambed that her lamb has gotten plenty of colostrum.

In terms of the physical lambing, they are generally lambing quite easily. The singles can give some problems with a large head, and triplets are the bane of my lambing life.


If I could engineer my ewes to just have twins, it would be a perfect world. Triplets are a pile of hassle.

We try to foster off what we can but it is not always the case that you can get them away so the pets are beginning to pile up.

I took on a recently qualified vet from Zurich in Switzerland, Jasmin Steiner. She is managing well and expects to be a sheep specialist by the time the lambing is over. Although she is not from a farming back ground she is taking to it like a duck to water.

I am minding them all well but hopefully not over doing it as they are about to become film stars.

In April I am doing a farm show with RTE called 'Big Week on the Farm'.

So combined with the mentalness of lambing I am dealing with camera men, producers, presenters and making sure my wonderful sheep are looking well for the TV.

I hope that it goes well, the whole idea of the show is to present to the viewers the joys of spring on the farm and also the interaction of wildlife on my farm and the surrounding landscape.

Fingers crossed it all goes well and people enjoy it.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

Indo Farming