Farm Ireland

Sunday 27 May 2018

It's time to focus on the positives and draw a line under the winter weather wipeout

This lamb takes takes to the stage and gets in some dance practice on one of the camp sites at the home of Electric Picnic at Stradbally Hall. Picture: Alf Harvey.
This lamb takes takes to the stage and gets in some dance practice on one of the camp sites at the home of Electric Picnic at Stradbally Hall. Picture: Alf Harvey.
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

There are three ewes remaining to lamb in the Lyons flock at the time of writing and these ewes and their lambs are by far the luckiest sheep in the flock. They are housed, on a dry bed and being fed silage and concentrates.

This is in stark contrast to the remainder of the flock which are outdoors, with the last of the ewes and lambs going out last week only. We don't have the option to house the ewes and lambs as silage and straw supplies are either exhausted or prioritised for other enterprises.

The only saving grace we have is that there are sufficient amounts of grass available on the sheep grazing platform.

This is because large areas have been reseeded since 2014 and we are seeing the benefits of these new swards in terms of growing grass during this challenging spring.

We are still feeding 0.5 kg of concentrate per day to the ewe lambs in an effort to prevent extensive body condition score loss and support the performance of their lambs.

This is an insurance policy to offset further problems later in the year such as light lambs at weaning. This applies particularly to the ewe lambs which struggle to hit weight and body condition score targets for their second mating.

The mature ewes had received 0.5 kg of concentrates during the worst of the weather conditions but we stopped supplementing these ewes last week as grass supply is not our biggest challenge at the moment.

Magnesium buckets are in all paddocks in an attempt to stave of grass tetany but we did lose a small number of ewes over a particularly bad weekend two weeks ago.

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The change in flock structure could not have happened at a worse time given the way this spring has turned out.

We have had a higher incidence of wool slip with the winter shearing this year and these ewes are really feeling the cold now.

To overcome this problem ewes are being moved to more sheltered paddocks in response to weather conditions and even switched from one side of the hill to the other on a daily basis in response to prevailing wind directions.

When we look at the weather data for this spring it really puts things in perspective. Mean temperature for February, March and April was 1.7 degrees, 2.1 degrees and 1.1 degrees lower than the 10 year average.

This resulted in soil temperatures being 1.5 degrees and 1.7 degrees lower for February and March respectively. Rainfall levels are 50pc above the 10 year average for January, 40pc below average for February, 40pc above average for March and we have already received our normal total rainfall for the month of April by the 12th of April this year.

While the cold temperatures have restricted grass growth, it is the wet conditions which are causing most problems. The sheep traditionally graze the silage grounds at Lyons, which is some of the heavier land on the farm.

We had to remove the sheep from this area early this year as the fields were cutting up badly due to lying surface water.

Only 50pc of the silage ground has received slurry and nitrogen at this stage. To put this in perspective, first cut silage was harvest in Lyons in the second week of May in 2017.

In an attempt to finish on a positive note, the lambing of the repeat ewes has proceeded without incident, with minimal mortality or intervention in this group. At the time of writing the weather forecast is for improved conditions over the coming week.

While it can be hard to appreciate in times of stress and pressure, land and animals have a great ability to recover from difficult conditions.

Stock will be finished and sold. Bills will be paid eventually. Farmers will prioritise everything over their own health and well-being during these challenging times, but without the farmer there is no farm!!

Keep talking, keep sharing, no one is unique in their suffering this year and the blame game is not the answer. Eventually the sun will shine, the grass will grow, let's be there to enjoy it when it does.

Associate Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production at Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. @Pallastb

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