Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

A smooth lambing season on this 370-ewe farm in Donegal

Favourable weather conditions have made all the difference

All lambs are EID tagged and numbered on the side for traceability before turn out in the field
All lambs are EID tagged and numbered on the side for traceability before turn out in the field

John Cannon

Lambing has progressed well on Michael Duffy's farm at Kerrykeel, 23 miles north of Letterkenny.

"I cannot complain this year, I have adequate grass, good weather for turning out ewes and lambs and mortality is in line with my expectations," says Michael.

This is a welcome change from last year.

Since my previous report last month, Michael purchased 50 in-lamb hoggets from a farmer who was reducing numbers. These scanned 1.7 and brought his ewe flock to 369.

Lambing began on March 18 with 15 ewes lambing down. This was followed by 17 ewes lambing on the 19th and 12 on the 20th.

"I was well prepared and with the weather being favourable I was able to get them out to the field on day three so individual pens could be freed up".

Michael and his daughter Aishling with her favourite pet lamb
Michael and his daughter Aishling with her favourite pet lamb

As of April 6, Michael had 211 ewes out in the field and about 40 more lambed indoors. He had about 66 ewes and 52 hoggets still to lamb.

On mortality, Michael commented: "I had a target of keeping it to 10pc of my scan. The scan was 655 and I have lost 10 from scanning to lambing. I am hoping to keep mortality from lambing to turnout to 45 and about 8-10 from turnout to weaning".

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Data from Eblex in the UK would show average mortality to be 13pc from scanning to weaning.

Michael says "all lambs are EID tagged and tailed (using rubber rings) before they leave the individual pen.

"They are also numbered on the side (same number put on mother) for visibility in the field".

He has 31 pet/orphan lambs at present. These are split into two pens according to age and are being fed using an artificial feeder. These lambs are doing well and are not too demanding on labour.

Reflections on lambing

It is worth quoting some of Michael's comments here. "Lambing is going to plan by and large," he says. "Ewe body condition is acceptable. I have no major issues with milk supply, prolapse or abortions. There is no sign of Orf and very little mastitis issues. However, when I have a problem it usually ends up in a casualty".

Store Hoggets

Michael still has 150 store hoggets left but will be happy to see the last of them sold as the current poor price is just a break-even position for these lambs at present.


Michael is planning to concentrate on soil fertility and grassland management during the remainder of the year.

"I will also divide some fields on a permanent basis. I have no plans to reseed any fields this year," he says.

Michael is set up on PastureBase which is a free online software tool to help farmers with grazing management.

The key to good grassland management is a weekly walk of all fields/paddocks and making grazing decisions based on the grass supply available.

Most Irish farmers could improve profit by at least €10 per lamb if they embraced better grassland management by saving on meal feeding.

The next Sheeptech feature will appear in our May 16 edition.

John Cannon is a Teagasc business and technology advisor based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal.


The weather since the middle of March was good for turning out ewes and lambs. It also helped grass growth on fields that was rested from October or early November.

Ewes were turned out on fields with a grass height of about 7cm. The silage fields were the first grazed but due to the growth since turnout Michael found it difficult to get them grazed down to 4cm.

While this might not be a common problem in the northwest I am aware that high covers are an issue for sheep farmers in the south and east of Ireland. Michael measured his grass on April 5th/6th.

This showed that he has 16 days grazing ahead of the 250 ewes that are lambed and as grass height on the grazing fields is up to 10cm in some small fields we decided to close for silage.

The grass heights on these fields ranged from a post grazing height of 4.8cm to a pre grazing height of 7.8cm.

The covers are quite green and leafy without any dead or yellow material so we hope that it will not impact too much on silage quality if it can be cut by mid-May.

If Michael decided to graze these down to 4cm before closing it would mean that other fields would get too strong resulting in poor grass utilisation and poor quality for subsequent grazing.

The covers are too high for slurry application now so Michael will apply P & K fertiliser in addition to Nitrogen at closing.

The plan is to apply approx. 90 units of Nitrogen, 17 units of Phosphate and 75 units of Potash (K)/acre as 2.5 bags of 0.7.30/acre and 3.3 bags of 27% CAN/acre.

The slurry will be applied immediately post cutting. (One would need Index 4 soils to adopt a Nitrogen only approach at closing for silage).

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