Mild winter has extended our grazing season by five weeks
With the exception of 90 ewes on a late pregnancy feeding trial, all other ewes and ewe lambs at Lyons are still outdoors.
This is an unusual situation for us and it reflects the excellent growing conditions achieved in the last quarter of 2018, which supported growth of our Redstart and Forage rape crops — and an additional section of grazing that has become available this year.
In the last six to eight weeks of pregnancy, the nutrient requirements of the ewe almost double, to support the growing lamb in the womb, and the development of the udder and colostrum production.
Energy is the first concern and then protein is a very close second. In the last three weeks of pregnancy, the quality of protein also becomes a very important issue and this is where feed ingredients such as soya bean meal has a big role to play.
This year we are utilising the cheaper forage sources of energy and protein on the farm, and also saving significantly on straw bedding, by extending the grazing season for five weeks so far.
Grazing conditions have been favourable for the most part, since early December too, which has certainly helped the situation.
Our triplet and quad bearing ewes, of which there are more than 100 this year, are grazing the Redstart currently, and they have about a week left on this, at which stage they will be housed. Prior to turn-out to the Redstart, they received an iodine bolus, to counter any potential impacts of high levels of goitrogens which can be present in this crop.
Once ewes are housed, they will be offered high-quality grass/red clover silage which will be supplemented with concentrates to meet requirements.
If we compare two ewes, of similar body weight, with one carrying twins and the other carrying triplets and a target lamb birth weight of 5kg for the twins and 4.5kg for the triplets, then the energy requirement of the triplet ewe to support lamb growth is almost 30pc higher than that of the twin ewe.
So we need to ensure that we give this ewe every chance to meet these requirements.
A particular concern for me, is to avoid anything that upsets rumen function of these ewes. Once concentrate feeding levels go above 500 grams per day, we split the feed. If it goes above 1kg per day, we go to three feeds.
This issue is probably of less concern where there is very good quality forage available to the ewes.
Protein level and source then becomes very important in the final month of pregnancy, with soya bean meal inclusion levels critical here. Soya bean inclusion levels in the region of 15-20pc are critical to support colostrum production and lamb growth in the final weeks of pregnancy.
The extended grazing season has allowed the opportunity to carry out some refurbishments to our sheep shed. The original pen dividers were 40 years old, and have certainly served us well.
New dividing gates were fitted and as it is a straw-bedded shed, these gates have the ability to be raised up as the dung levels in the shed increases. They also offer the potential of a creep feeding option if required.
The next month will see the remainder of the flock housed, concentrate supplementation commenced and preparation for lambing completed.
We expect the first lambs to arrive around March 6, and with the high triplet numbers in the flock this year, our lamb feeding equipment will be refurbished in preparation for this.
Also this year, the 90 experimental ewes will have the colostrum production recorded over the first 18 hours of life, so this will necessitate a lot of additional labour that will be sourced from our second year students in Belfield.
Professor Tommy Boland is an associate professor in sheep production at Lyons Farm, University College Dublin.
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