Top sheep farmer on why scanning is essential for flock management

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
John Large

John Large

We were out of the blocks early for 2018 with scanning of the ewes taking place on New Year's Day.

The results were good with a conception rate of 78pc to AI. We have 495 ewes in-lamb from 630 that were served to AI.

We have 50pc twins, which is a bit disappointing, 24pc with singles and 26pc with triplets.

On average it works out at two lambs per ewe.

We also have 49 ewes that scanned empty or are not long enough in-lamb to show up on the scanner. These will be scanned again with the ewes that are marked as repeats.

We used the raddle on the rams to mark repeats and these were picked off when the ewes were being housed. We will scan again at the end of January to get a better idea of the overall results.

Some people may ask why scan? Firstly you get an accurate estimation of the number of lambs the ewe is carrying. Scanning delivers obvious advantages but also feeds into many management decisions.

Identifying the litter size allows targeted feeding levels to meet nutritional requirements and prevent under or over-feeding.

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We will be able to pick off the triplets now and start to feed them some meal. With triplets you need to feed them for 10 weeks before lambing. The earlier you start them on .2kg per day the better.

You can allow ewes to lose a small amount of body weight in mid-pregnancy and it is virtually impossible to put on a significant amount of body weight in late pregnancy. Keep an eye on body condition and start supplementary feeding once you notice body condition starting to slip.

We have good quality silage - it's dry, well chopped and has a DMD of 72.

With this type of forage most of our twin ewes will not need to get meal until six weeks before lambing.

It is in the last six weeks of pregnancy that 70pc of lamb growth takes place. This reduces the space available for the rumen, thereby suppressing appetite and feed in-take leaving the ewe under extreme pressure to meet their energy and protein requirements.

Adequate supplementation of the ewe is vital during this period to maximise lamb survival and performance. We will only feed the singles for the last three weeks of pregnancy so their lambs are not too big. The ewes will still have enough milk to cope if we decide to adopt an extra lamb on to them.

We have to decide now what to feed. Concentrate feeds are made up of different constituents. Energy is the most limiting nutrient in sheep rations.

Barley is a high energy feed with low protein content. It is safe and can be fed whole which reduces the risk of acidosis.

We will also be feeding whole oats which has a 10pc lower feed value than barley. This is due to the higher fibre content of oats.

We will also feed some beet-pulp. It is high in digestible fibre which is an energy source.

It is palatable and ideal for mixing with cereals.

When we include protein in the ration for the last four weeks of pregnancy we will use soya-bean meal. This has a good quality proportion of bypass protein.

It is an ingredient of consistent quality and useful for home mixing. Its inclusion is generally limited by price. So our ewe ration will be made up of rolled barley, whole oats, beet pulp and soya bean meal. We will also include minerals.

Finally, don't forget to send back the sheep census form which is due soon and applications for the sheep welfare scheme are also open.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe in Co Tipperary

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