Farm Ireland

Monday 26 February 2018

Sheep: Plenty of 'ram-power' needed for compact lambing

Ian Howard ploughing and sowing 200ac at LittleGrange Slane, Co Meath of a new Californian winter barley variety. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
Ian Howard ploughing and sowing 200ac at LittleGrange Slane, Co Meath of a new Californian winter barley variety. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
John Fagan

John Fagan

Now that the rams are out we are entering what is a quiet time of year on the farm. I'm running about one ram to 30 ewes. I find that plenty of 'ram-power' along with good conditioning in the ewes is essential for a compact lambing.

A ewe cycles every 17 days, and most should be covered within a three week period, but I will leave the rams with them for five weeks to be sure to be sure.

Lambing is not something that you want to drag on for too long. It's fine at the start when you are full of energy. But as the weeks roll on 'lambing fatigue' sets in and the joy wears off.

I am going to breed the ewe lambs this year but I won't let the rams with them until November 5. This usually allows a break mid lambing and lambing ewe lambs in April is easier on both man and sheep.

April lambing also allows the young sheep more time to fully develop her mouth - remember that a ewe lamb is not only feeding a lamb, but she is still growing herself. You have to be mindful of this otherwise the ewe lamb won't develop into the prolific ewe that you want her to. Also as a rule of thumb I like the ewe lambs to be close to, if not over, 50kg at the time of mating in November.

I vaccinated all the ewe lambs as well as last year's hoggets for toxoplasmosis. It was the first time that I did this. I had a problem with abortion last year which, I have now learned, is almost inevitable with a large flock. Thankfully the level of abortion I suffered in my flock was relatively low, but nevertheless it needed attention.

The one thing that I found with this vaccination is that you need to book your vaccine in plenty of time. I was cutting it tight as sheep that are treated need a three week period to incubate the vaccine before they can be mated.

I have treated all the ewe lambs and it is now my intention to treat all ewe lambs entering the flock each year so that eventually the whole flock will be covered.

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The older ewes in the flock should be ok since they have probably been exposed to toxoplasmosis already and developed immunity as a result. It's not guaranteed but it is cheaper than treating the entire flock at €4 per head.

Lambs are continuing to move along nicely. I let out the last of my ram lambs on the fodder rape. I don't expect them to do too much harm to the crop that I have earmarked for wintering my ewes and it will finish them off hopefully over the next few weeks.

The remaining ewe lambs are grazing out the fields that I intend to shortly close off for next year's lambing. They are also very close to being finished. It is vital to close off ground now to have sufficient grass for ewes at lambing time next March.

In fact. if I think that I won't get my lambs drafted by the end of this month, I will consider mealing them or off-loading them as stores instead of jepordising my spring grass for the sake of a bunch of straggling lambs. I did it once before and paid a heavy price the following spring.

With the budget looming the IFA are pushing for a sheep payment. I used to be against it thinking that it would flood the market with sheep and we would end up back in the days of €60-€70 per lamb, but it would have some merit if the payment was based on historical census, ensuring that committed sheep farmers benefitted.

For every €1 investment in agriculture there is €4 return for the economy. It is on this basis that the Government can justify investing in agriculture with support measures such as a sheep payment.

The sheep industry has a lot to offer rural Ireland, and it is also important to remember is that we are good at producing lamb in this country.

I would also like to see an STAP type scheme continue. However, it should be better funded to enable open access to anyone who wants to learn and profitably produce quality lamb.

It was previously closed to new entrants, which is a huge pity particularly for young people getting into sheep farming.

John Fagan is a sheep farmer from Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

Next up

Over the coming month I intend to get the farm winter-ready.  I like to keep the place tidy putting away machinery safely after the summer.  The spike in fatal farm accidents over the last month is another reminder of the dangers that exist in our farmyard.

We need to be mindful of  others who are not so familiar with them.  I am going to have a review  of my farm safety statement and go over anything that I think  could pose a risk to me or anyone else.

Indo Farming