Sheep: We have had a bumper crop of lambs despite all the elements fired at us

They will be feeding well into May on John Large's farm.
They will be feeding well into May on John Large's farm.
John Large

John Large

How different each year can be. This time last year we were cutting out feeding meal to the ewe lambs that were rearing lambs.

This year we are feeding all the twin rearing ewes and all the ewe lambs. And with no change in the weather likely for the foreseeable future we will be feeding well into May.

We had enough grass for the month of March, but with regrowth very slow we decided to go in and feed meal at a rate of .5kg per head once a day.

We are feeding nuts onto the grass with a snacker. In hindsight we should have gone in a week earlier with the nuts.

Two groups of ewes are getting fodder-beet since the weather got dry as they are very tight on grass.

We will know how lambs are performing soon as they are due to be weighed the last week of April. We will dose them the same day and put all through the foot-bath as a few lambs are starting to get scald.

I know we have lost some lambs since turn-out mainly due to the two very wet weekends we got in early April. Even some big lambs, a month old, got cold from a combination of excessive rain and very wet ground conditions. Most recovered after a few hours under a heat lamp and a hot feed of electrolyte.

The ewe lambs and repeats started to lamb after St Patrick's Day. The fields saved for them have plenty of grass so we are probably lambing the main flock too early.

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After this year we will move our lambing date back from the first of March to the second week in March.

This way we should have more grass available after lambing. It is very hard to keep ewes milking, lambs thriving, with little grass while trying to supplement with meal and beet.

We have spread fertiliser for the second time on most ground on April 22 about four weeks after the first dressing. We took soil samples early in the year so this application of fertiliser was based on these soil sample results. With some fields that were high in phosphorus and potassium just getting straight nitrogen and more getting muriate of potash and nitrogen. However, most got a compound (18-6-12) as they needed both P and K.

Hopefully we will see a change in weather and this fertiliser can get grass growing. We have about 20 acres fertilised and closed for silage. This ground also got 2000 gallons of cattle slurry per acre.

We put three bags of nitrogen out for silage with the plan being to cut early in June. We have some bales of haylage left for next year but after the long winter we will need to save more silage than we did last year. Our lambing is as good as over with just two ewe-lambs and four ewes left now. We had very few problems, especially with the ewe-lambs. Most of them lambed themselves and were very good mothers.

With the weather so bad and plenty of space in the sheds we kept all the ewe-lambs and lambs inside for nearly three weeks. The mothers got .75kg of 18pc CP nuts and we also got most of the lambs to eat from a creep-feeder, now they are out with lambs all eating, if we get the lambs up to 250gms per head per day we will cut back on the meal to the ewes.

We hope to wean these lambs at 12 weeks about the July 1. This way we should have plenty of time to get their mothers up to condition score 3+ before mating.

It is very important not to leave the lambs on them for too long and end up with thin hoggets going to the ram.

I was always sceptical about lambing ewe-lambs, whether there is any money in them or just too much extra work for a few extra lambs. This year we were scanned for 176 lambs from 106 ewe-lambs and we have 165 live lambs with two singles still to lamb.

How I achieved this I'm not sure, but being able to keep them outside until near lambing was a huge help. They also lambed quickly with most lambing in four weeks so supervision was easy. These lambs will be an extra income for this year. Our plan could be to sell them as stores or finish late in the year off forage crops. But at least we have them and can now work to keep them healthy and thriving for the next few months.

John Large is a sheep farmer based in Co Tipperary

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