Wean lambs early to reduce demand for grass

The first thing is to wean lambs early, don't wait until they are 16 weeks old.
The first thing is to wean lambs early, don't wait until they are 16 weeks old.
Lambs have been weaned and weighed
John Large

John Large

There seems to be a new challenge around every corner and this year is definitely providing them.

We seem to have gone from winter to summer in a few weeks. After very good growth in the May to early June period, we are now in need of rain to kick-start grass again. During the good sunny weather we conserved silage and hay of very good quality for next winter.

Crops may not be as heavy as previous years but quality is excellent.

We have just a few paddocks to cut this week and a small portion of second cut, to make sure we have enough to see us through the winter months. Hopefully we will not have to use any during the summer.

The trick now is what can you do on a heavily stocked sheep farm with grass tight at the end of June. The first thing is to wean lambs early, don't wait until they are 16 weeks old.

We weaned and weighed the lambs yesterday (June 25). They should have an average age of about 13 weeks. Weaning will reduce demand for grass as the ewes' requirement for feed drops by 70pc after weaning.

This will allow us to give what grass we have to the lambs and let the ewes clean up after them. When we weigh the lambs we will divide into groups according to weight.

The heaviest lambs will get some meal, about 250g/day.

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This should help bring their drafting date forward. Lambs could also be finished on a all concentrate diet.

However, this is a very costly practice as lambs will eat up to 1.5kg per day when on a full ad-lib concentrate diet. Therefore, this should only be practiced in extreme situations.

John Large
John Large

Other steps we can take include drafting lambs as they become fit, go through them every two weeks and aim for a 19kg carcass instead of a 21kg.

When you feed some meal, the kill-out percentage will be higher so you can sell at a lighter body weight. Just be sure you have a good fat cover - aim for fat score three.

We will sell any cull ewes that are in good condition at weaning. The April-born lambs are creep grazing in front of the ewes. This gives the lambs priority to the scarce supply of high

quality grass, with the ewes maintained on tighter grass for longer periods and lambs are up to 2kg heavier at weaning.

The other priority groups are the ewe hoggets (lambing at one-year old approximately) that are suckling lambs.

They will need a longer rest period than the mature ewes.

Therefore, their lambs should be weaned at 10 to 12 weeks.

This is particularly important if they were mated and lambed after the main flock.

We are feeding all these lambs so weaning early should not be a problem. It should also be of benefit when feeding lambs meal - you don't need to buy a fancy ration, a simple three way mix based on cereals and pulp works just as well.

Try to avoid purchasing in small 25kg bags as while this may be convenient, it is very expensive.

We have all the ewes and lambs treated for Blowfly using Click for most and Clickzin on any heavier lambs that are coming near finishing weight.


Jobs for the next month include going through all ewes, picking off culls and dividing the ewes for mating into two groups giving priority to the thin ones.

We will also make a big effort to cure any lame ewes and we will shear everything by the middle of July.

Everything would come together easily now if we could get a few days rain. It's hard to believe after the winter and spring we got, I am now looking for water.

John Large Farm

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary

John's is one of the Central Progeny Test (CPT) flocks working with Sheep Ireland and he was one of the original participants in the programme which began back in 2010.

This wasn't the Gortnahoe farmer's first venture into helping breed improvement; previously he participated in a number of Teagasc on-farm ram evaluation trials.

Aside from breeding initiatives he has embraced the grazing challenge having previously also hosted one of the Grass10 Programme sheep walks.

Sheep system

The sheep system makes up the main part of the farming enterprise, running a closed flock which comprises of 630 mature ewes and 160 ewe lambs that are also joined.

Stocked at approximately 12 ewes per hectare, with all progeny excluding replacements taken to finish, this is a high output system.

As part of the CPT Programme all the mature ewes are artificially inseminated. This process takes place in two phases in mid-October, with a two-day interval in between each.

With so many ewes lambing in such a compact period, the start of March is a busy time on the farm.

Extra staff is drafted in for lambing, with Sheep Ireland technicians present during lambing to help record a variety of information on both ewe and lamb performance.

All progeny from the AI rams are tagged and recorded at birth and their performance and health data recorded throughout the season. A selection of female progeny from each of the sires used is retained for breeding enabling the capture of maternal data.

This information is recorded in the Sheep Ireland database and forms part for the genetic evaluations for the sires used. It also provides an invaluable resource for the industry as it provides much needed on-farm commercial data.

Another challenge posed by having such large numbers lambing at one time is the need for sufficient amounts of grass at turnout.

Achieving high levels of performance at grass is key for this flock. With the high stocking rate, good levels of performance are needed to keep hit drafting targets.

With three separate farm sections to manage, good grassland management skills are key to achieving this. To keep supplies in check in the middle of the grazing season, heavy covers are removed as baled silage.

Drafting lambs

Once they start to approach finish weights, lambs are assessed and drafted every two weeks with lambs weighted and assessed for fat cover. John aims for a 20 +kg U or R3 carcass.

To achieve the desired level of finish John introduces concentrate supplementation from August. Rather than blanket feeding, all lambs are batched according to weight on the farm, with those over 40kg supplemented. Forage rape is also grown and used to finish a proportion of lambs in October and November.

Indo Farming

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