Farm Ireland

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Weather dictates that cull ewes must be sold now

Farmer Derick Beattie, Coolroe, Tinahely, Co Wicklow as one lively ewe makes her way back to the flock after a good shearing. Photo: Roger Jones.
Farmer Derick Beattie, Coolroe, Tinahely, Co Wicklow as one lively ewe makes her way back to the flock after a good shearing. Photo: Roger Jones.
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

Our lambs had an average weight of 30kg at weaning on June the 19 with no major differences evident between the different breeds, though this is something I will look at in more detail in the coming weeks.

Since weaning, lambs have grazed silage after-grass and have actually performed very well and achieved a daily live-weight gain of 300g per day.

Lambs have not received an anthelmintic dose since May and a faecel egg count taken at weaning came back with a reading of 320 epg so no treatment was required at that stage.

We took another faecal sample late last week, and will act according to those results.

There were a few cases of maggots in the lambs too, even though all lambs were dagged prior to weaning.

These lambs were treated and the flock will be monitored closely (as they always are) for any other instances over the coming days, but no blanket treatments have taken place as of yet.

Ewes are grazing the hill ground at Lyons, which is now completely burnt and grass growth figures are probably negative at this stage.

Indeed the main dairy grazing platform at Lyons only grew 21 kg DM per ha per day last week, which is less than one third of the normal growth rate on that part of the farm.

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The ewes were in reasonable condition at weaning, and with over three months to go until mating a modest loss of condition at this time would not worry me too much.

However, we should be careful not to leave too much ground to make up before the mating season, as this will have knock on effects on next year’s litter size.

In preparation for next year, some second cut silage was harvested last week, and while yields are below target it is great to be in a position to harvest this fodder.

The paddocks with red clover in the seed mix are certainly giving the highest yields, reflecting the deeper rooting ability of the red clover allowing it to access moisture from deeper down in the soil.


Our rainfall in Lyons for June was just 18.5 mm, compared to 92 mm last year and a rolling average of 63mm.

To put this in context, evapotranspiration in June was 105 mm leaving a deficit of just under 90mm.

This current set of weather conditions must really focus the mind in terms of identifying and removing any non-productive stock from the farm. Cull ewes should be identified and sold now. Where there are limited grass supplies you would really want to question the benefit of feeding on these animals to add €10-15 to their sale price, by allowing them to eat into scarce grass reserves that would be better prioritised for finishing lambs.

I mentioned in last month’s article that we are planning to harvest whole-crop-wheat.

This should take place early this week.

We have planned also to follow this by sowing a crop of Redstart, a forage rape/kale hybrid, which we have had very good success with in recent years.

However, as the weather is so dry we will hold off on planting the Redstart until there is a forecast of good rainfall.

The big fear with seeding in these very dry conditions is that there is a small amount of rainfall, sufficient to cause germination that is then followed by another dry spell.

This would lead to a lot of the seedlings dying and a very poor crop establishment.

So the plan for the next month is to establish the Redstart, monitor lamb growth rate and draft lambs for slaughter as they become fit, finalise the culling of ewes from the flock and plan to source replacements.

Professor Tommy Boland is an associate professor in sheep production at Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. @Pallastb

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