Water supply vitally important for pregnant ewes


The Kavanagh family from Drumphea Co Carlow, move sheep from fields into shelter ahead of the arrival of storm Emma. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke
The Kavanagh family from Drumphea Co Carlow, move sheep from fields into shelter ahead of the arrival of storm Emma. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke
John Large

John Large

By the time this article reaches is published, lambing should be in full swing in the aftermath of the storm.

Our due date is Monday, which is 142 days since the first lot were served. This may seem early, as ewe gestation length can range from 144 days to 152 days. The gestation period can be governed by breed, high temperatures, and high nutrition levels may also shorten the gestation period by two or three days.

We are feeding all the ewes with a 20pc crude protein mix, consisting of the same ingredients as usual with the amount of whole oats reduced and the percentage of soya increased from 14pc to 26pc. The use of soya as the main protein provides the ewes with a source of rumen bypass protein, with research showing it can subsequently improve lamb performance over other proteins.

We are feeding the triplets 1.1kg per day, twins are on 0.7kg being fed twice a day and singles are on 0.3kg in one feed. We are giving very near 100g of soya for the number of lambs each ewe is carrying. Due to the growth of the foetus, the ewes' ability to consume forage decreases. Her rumen space gets smaller, not that she won't try to consume enough, but she has nowhere to store it. We have reduced silage by almost half for the last two weeks.

We were getting some ewes prolapsing, especially in the triplets. By reducing their forage we have seen the problem decrease. Our silage is very sweet and palatable so they have it eaten up quickly. I have to feed silage twice per day to all ewes. When restricting feed, it is very important they have enough feed space so that they can all eat together.

It is vitally important that a fresh supply of water is available to pregnant ewes at all times. A pregnant ewe will consume up to six litres of water per day when the feed being eaten is high in dry matter, especially when the amount of concentrates increase in their diet. Water bowls should be checked regularly and cleaned out if contaminated with faeces, silage or straw. It can be a bit late when you notice one pen not eating up their silage. Also watch out for water bowls that get blockages where no water can get into the bowl - for us, this is usually caused by a high lime content in the water.

We scanned the repeat ewes and ewe lambs in early February. Our overall lambing percentage for the ewes is 1.88 per ewe to the ram. We had 38 ewes not in lamb or 6pc which is high when compared to a natural serviced flock. When you take out the empty ewes, we have nearly two lambs per ewe. Our percentage of twins seems to hold static at 50pc. If we could increase this, our workload would be greatly reduced. We just have too many triplets at 22pc of the ewes.

Our ewe lambs scanned well, with just three carrying triplets, 28 with twins, 110 with singles and 22 not in lamb. These are due to start lambing the end of March.

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We put the singles and empties on to grass only with high energy buckets. This grass is not of great quality so there is a need to feed the blocks. The twins are outside with a few late triplet ewes getting 0.3kg of meal and access to a bale of silage. These will be housed as soon as space becomes available.

The singles will stay out until they start to lamb. All the ewe lambs get a dose for worms and fluke when being scanned - they also got their first shot of Covexin 10, which has to be repeated early in March.

We have been busy cleaning out the sheep shed, putting up the individual pens, getting my lambing equipment organised and scanning the cows before lambing starts.

An ongoing issue on most farms is the availability of labour for peak times. This is no different on my farm. We are finding it harder to get help each year. What I need is quantity, with people of various experience as there is a variety of jobs to be done, from lambing, tagging and recording, to feeding and transporting ewes and lambs out to the fields.

You will gain experience in lambing a big flock quickly using hi-tech equipment to record lamb weights and other traits. And most importantly, you gain valuable insight into working as a team where everyone has their role to play.

Maybe I am a bit late for this year but sure hopefully we will be going again next year and I will remind you of my request earlier. All we need now is two good weeks' weather.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary

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