Sheep: Excluding fencing grants from TAMS II is a big mistake
During the last week of September we sponged all the ewes that will be inseminated next week (October 12-15). The ewes are also being weighed, condition scored and checked for lameness. All the information is being recorded by a technician from Sheep Ireland.
These traits will have an influence on conception rate and subsequently on the number of lambs born next spring. The weight of the ewe is generally governed by her breed. For example, a big-boned Suffolk could weigh 90kg where a light-boned Belclare may only weigh 70kg. The advantage is that you can carry five light ewes instead of just four of the heavier ones on the same area of land.
This means you should be able to sell more lambs per acre. This works, but only if you are selling more kilos of meat per acre. Based on a simple calculation using a weaning percentage of 1.5 lambs per ewe, the four heavy ewes produce six lambs; if they kill at a maximum paid-weight of 22kg, this gives you 132kg of saleable meat per acre.
The five heavier ewes living on the same acre produce 7.5 lambs. Say they are not as heavy at 20kg each, which gives you 150kg of meat. But this is still an extra 18kg at a price of €5/kg equals €90/ac extra.
Condition score is a method of estimating the condition or nutritional well-being of your sheep flock by assessing the amount of muscle and fat covering the backbone and ribs of each sheep.
The most important time in the annual cycle of the ewe to be at target condition score is at mating.
The condition score of the ewe at mating impacts on subsequent litter size and weaning rate.
Research has shown that every one unit increase in condition score at mating leads to an increase at weaning time of 0.1 lambs per ewe, so you have the potential of selling 10 extra lambs per 100 ewes to the ram.
We aim to have all ewes at mating time over condition score 3 with no ewes under 2.5 kept for breeding.
Ewes in good condition at mating will have a higher conception rate to first service and a lower barren rate. They should also be easier managed in bigger groups with less stragglers to get individual treatment.
A ewe that is less than 2.5 at mating will be no better at lambing time and she will have eaten twice as much meal as her 3.5 condition score mate who has the added advantage of being able to rear her two lambs.
As you all know lame sheep fall into the category of being both under-weight and under-condition, so I do everything to keep them to minimised. Regular foot-bathing and pairing of hooves where necessary and, most importantly, culling the persistent culprits are all necessary steps.
In last month's article I mentioned doing some fencing, preferably with the help of a grant from TAMS II.
It's now clear that fencing is not going to be included for grant aid.
I think this is a huge mistake as fencing for sheep is expensive but essential - you cannot farm sheep without good fences.
All we hear about at farm-walks or in the media is how important grassland management is in providing quality, cheap feed for our sheep.
We are told that this gives us the opportunity of providing a quality product for our processors to export.
But how are we supposed to get the best from our grass if we do not have the fences to keep the sheep? Grass management is based on grazing out paddocks quickly to allow for quick re-growth and a higher quality grass.
Every effort should be made to get fencing grants back and farmers should go to their local TDs and lobby them on this issue.
They should also be asked for their support to get a direct payment to supplement the sheep farmer.
As I have argued before, this payment should not be based on a maximum number of ewes, which invariably is limited to a low number. What might work is basing the number on an average sheep census figure over the last three years.
Just remember, if we do not stand up for ourselves no one else will.
John Large is a sheep farmer based in Co Tipperary
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