Farm Ireland

Friday 15 December 2017

Sheep: High quality silage is helping us to make big savings on concentrates

Sheep forage for nourishment following a snowfall in Farnham, Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Sheep forage for nourishment following a snowfall in Farnham, Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

With under three weeks to go until lambing at Lyons Research Farm the focus is on preparation for lambing, the research which runs alongside the lambing and having everything in place to turn ewes out after lambing.

This time last year we were hoping for milder weather to allow the grass to grow. This year we are looking for the rain to stop to allow fertiliser application on the grazing ground.

Silage quality on offer to our ewes this year is very good. Our first cut silage offered to the ewes in late pregnancy is both high DMD at 77pc and high protein at 15.1pc.

This is allowing us to make significant savings on concentrate feeding levels. At the time of writing triplets are receiving 500gm of concentrates daily, twin bearing ewes just began receiving meals on February 17 at a rate of 400gm daily and the singles are on restricted silage feeding to prevent ewes becoming over conditioned.

The concentrate contains 18pc crude protein, and we are feeding the 18pc concentrate a little earlier this year than previously, simply due to the fact that with the low levels of concentrate inputs it did not make sense to purchase another batch of our 14pc crude protein concentrate to cover just a single weeks feeding.

The single ewes will receive 100gm of soya bean meal in the last two weeks of pregnancy to push on udder development and colostrum and milk production as we will be expecting many of these ewes to be recipients for foster lambs.

All ewe lambs were receiving 300gm of concentrate daily up to February 17 when the twins were moved onto 400gm. The benefit of making good quality silage, and knowing you have good quality silage by carrying out a forage quality test are clear to see.

Ewes and lambs received their clostridial vaccinations last week using Heptavac P plus and at the same time the ewes were foot bathed using formalin at 5pc.

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Connie Grace is ready to commence the second year of her multi-species grazing work.

As with any experiment every effort is made to ensure any results we see are down to the treatments applied rather than chance or animals being incorrectly assigned to their treatment groups.

Growth rate

The main output we are looking at in this work is growth rate, so we need consider the factors that affect lamb growth rate and ensure that animals are balanced in each treatment (of which there are four) for these factors. Some of the main items affecting growth rate are lamb birth weight, lamb gender, lamb breed, ewe breed, ewe weight and ewe body condition score. Achieving this is quite a challenge and leads to plenty of head scratching as ewes lamb.

Mark Boland is also very busy in the sheep nutrition house at Lyons at the moment, where he is using wether hoggets to test the digestibility of a range of feed stuffs. This is very intensive work with all feed intake and faeces output recorded and collected over the course of a week. To facilitate the collection of faeces, Mark and John Heffernan have designed what is essentially a nappy for the wethers, which collects all the faeces over a 24 hour period and these are changed every day. Interesting if not glamorous work.

I am writing this month's article in Australia, where I am attending the main international conference on greenhouse gas emissions and animal agriculture (GGAA2016), having previously being involved in the organisation of the last meeting in Dublin in 2013.

There is quite a lot of international work looking at chicory and plantain (two of the species Connie is using) and their impacts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from animals. There is some very positive results coming forward and this is an area of work we hope to develop in the near future.

This year, just like all other years, there will be a number of undergraduate students from Belfield coming to Lyons to assist with the lambing. This year we have had about 10 times the number of applicants as we have places to fill.

While I try to accommodate as many as possible I have learned the hard way that the worst thing we can have in the lambing shed, is too many people ( I appreciate this is not a problem for the majority of you!). Still it is heartening to see the interest in volunteering for lambing experience.

The students who sign up come from a range of backgrounds, many with no sheep experience and some with no animal experience whatsoever. This is never a problem once people are willing to listen, learn and work.

Dr Tommy Boland lectures at the UCD Lyons Research Farm, Newcastle, Co Dublin

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