Sheep: We have our sights set on the five star rams

Ger Courtney, Teagasc pictured at the Irish Grassland Association tour of Sean and Liz O' Riordan's farm at Kiskeam, Co Cork and Conor and Eilisha Creedon's holding in Shrone, Rathmore, Co Kerry.
Ger Courtney, Teagasc pictured at the Irish Grassland Association tour of Sean and Liz O' Riordan's farm at Kiskeam, Co Cork and Conor and Eilisha Creedon's holding in Shrone, Rathmore, Co Kerry.
John Large

John Large

Now that all ewes have been weaned and shorn our attention has turned to preparing for the next breeding season. At this stage it is less than 12 weeks away.

We've already begun looking to buy two rams for the breeding season, with the aim of purchasing two five star rams.

These are the reason why we have our eyes set on the five star boys.

Less labour at lambing - on average five star rams have less lambing difficulty relative to rams with lower stars.

Greater growth rates from five star lambs, which are more than 1kg heavier than one star lambs at weaning.

Five star commercial ewes have a lower mature weight than one star ewes and also produce more lambs. Long term this genetic improvement is permanent and cumulative, so breeding decisions that are made today will affect future generations of animals in your flock.

You must also look at the physical traits of the ram, with most emphasis on his teeth, and make sure he is not overshot or undershot.

Then his feet. The ram must stand on all four legs evenly. Back legs should not be bowed and the ram should not be standing on hocks.

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Remember he will have a lot of walking to do when out with the ewes.

Obviously his reproductive organs must be correct with two even sized testicles. Always handle the ram - this will give you an indication of shape, paying special attention to shoulder width, back and hind quarter.

Try to purchase the rams early so they have time to acclimatise to your farm conditions. All of these rams are used to being fed meal so feed them some meal after purchase.

Also make sure to vaccinate for clostridial diseases when you get him home. When mixing with other rams already on the farm, we find it helps to lock them all into a small pen so they are tight together and do not have space to head-butt each other, after a few hours they usually all get on together.

After shearing the ewes we went through and picked off any culls. The best were sold straight away and the remainder will be fed grass for two months and then sold.

The breeding ewes are divided into two groups based on their condition score with the lower score ones given the better grass.

These are mostly hoggets that reared lambs, ewes that were lame and ones that have lost a lot of condition while rearing lambs. The idea is to get these to put on weight before mating, while the other group just need to hold the condition they are in now.

The thin group of ewes had their feet paired and stood in the footbath regularly for the last two weeks. Any not improving over the next few weeks will be culled.

They also receive a mineral dose - Stockline from Natural Stockcare. We gave them 7.5ml which will be repeated again before they go to the ram as we come near mating.

This is the group of ewes that need most attention now to get them up to the condition score of 3.5 and over.

If we can achieve this the effect will be seen in more lambs born and more ewes holding to the first service. This will make for an easier lambing.

Any ewes that do not put on enough weight and are still thin as we come near mating will be culled. An increase of one unit condition score is associated with an increase of about 10kg of liveweight.

It takes time to put on this weight, the most important part is to divide ewes early enough so they can put on this weight.

We have also picked out our ewe lambs. We will keep a replacement rate of 25pc, so we have a selection picked off now and we will go through them again before mating and pick off the bottom 20. These have to get their vaccine against abortion soon, so that will be my next job.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary

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