John Fagan: Grass tetany a big danger if we get a sudden burst of growth

Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath. Lambing on John Fagan's farm.
Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath. Lambing on John Fagan's farm.
John Fagan

John Fagan

Farewell to the winter and spring from hell. That wasn’t a lot of fun. We all have our stories to tell and it will live long in my memory.

The lambing itself went fine but we had to house ewes and lambs for nearly three weeks. So now I know what its like to lamb ewes in December.

I think that if you can, the best remedy for a year like that is to take a break, get away from it as soon as you can.

You need to get away from farming in a year like that after the storm has subsided, otherwise you get fed up, bitter and resentful of your job that is otherwise, the best job in the world.

That is possibly the best piece of advice anyone could give to a farmer in the aftermath of what is the worst winter in living memory.

Come back refreshed, don’t make any hasty decisions and you will weather the storm. Remember that you are the biggest asset the farm has and your health is the priority.

In the mean time, I have been able to let out sheep, get slurry and fertiliser out and hopefully as soon as the rise in temperature comes grass growth will kick off and the pressure will be off.

One thing I need to be vigilant about for now is grass tetany. I have had one case already, brought on by the sudden change in temperature and a ewe feeding two strong lambs.

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

I have high mag buckets out and typically the one field that I didn’t have a bucket in, was the one that was affected. 


I also put out bales of haylage around various gateways to hopefully control the situation. It’s no harm to have a jar of magnesium handy.

You warm it up to body temperature and slowly give 40mls under the skin. This should sort the ewe out provided you get to her in time, but you have to be vigilant. Grass tetany will be rampant this year as I expect a lot of sudden growth. Be tetany ready.

Each year I look back on lambing and try to assess what went right and what went wrong.

Obviously the weather was hectic and uncontrollable, but I was lucky in that I had, good help, covers of grass stored up from the previous October, plenty of fodder and I needed every bale.

I lambed two-year old ewes for the first time this year and it is something that I will never do again.

They are not as good at mothering up as ewe lambs, I had significant issues with mis-mothering and lambing difficulties so it is not something that I will inflict upon myself again. Also I am going to push lambing start dates out into March.

I don’t care if we never see a winter like that again, I’m not taking the risk and the extra costs in labour and feed by lambing at the beginning of March. There is little incentive to have lambs any earlier.


John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

Online Editors

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App