Ewes at the UCD research farm at Lyons Estate were housed last Tuesday (January 3) having grazed on redstart for the previous few weeks.
They are in good condition at housing, and this coupled with good quality silage will allow us to reduce the quantities of concentrates offered during the housing period.
Our scanning results from last week are largely in line with what we recorded last year. There are two main groups in our flock, the ewe lambs and the mature ewes.
Our ewe lambs were victims of a dog attack immediately prior to mating in October which saw 11 lambs killed.
There appears to be some carry-over effects on the survivors, with a conception rate to first service of just 58pc and an overall conception rate (after 1 repeat cycle) of 82pc.
These ewe lambs are now receiving 250gr per day of a 14pc crude protein ration.
The mature ewe flock scanned at 1.8 for all ewes to the ram. Ewes conceiving to first service (which is an AI service) scanned at 2.01, the repeats scanned at 1.76, but a barren rate of just under 10pc pulls our overall flock performance down to 1.8.
This is well below our target and is a continuing issue since the introduction of laproscopic AI at our farm.
The mature flock breaks down as follows, 78 singles, 143 twins, 62 triplets, one quad and 29 empties giving a total of 313 ewes to the ram.
Getting our barren percentage down to a more realistic figure of 3-4 pc would add around 0.12 of a lamb to our overall scanning rate.
The ewes are set to be shorn this week and along with increases in lamb birth weight this also makes it a little easier to monitor ewe condition during the crucial final two months of pregnancy.
The flock is now housed according to litter size, with singles, twins and triplets penned separately, and ewe lambs separated from the mature ewes.
We will occasionally transfer a single to a twin pen, or a twin to a triplet pen if we feel they could use a bit of extra feeding.
Maximum group size is 45 ewes and we ensure animals have adequate floor space and, most importantly, adequate feed space. For ewes offered ad lib silage, feed space should be 150-200 mm per animal, and where we are offering restricted access to concentrates, concentrate feed space must be 450 - 500mm.
Attention to all the small details is essential at this stage of the production cycle and visual observation at feeding time is important to ensure that all animals can access the feed, animals are not being bullied and they have access to clean drinking water, especially as concentrate feeding levels increase.
It is essential that the ewe lamb flock is treated as a separate flock as they have ongoing requirements for growth in addition to their maintenance and pregnancy requirements.
Nutrition of the ewe flock is absolutely crucial for the next two months. In so far as possible we will be trying to maintain ewe body condition at its current levels until lambing time. This fat reserve is of much more value in early lactation. Knowledge of the forage quality on offer to the ewes is a very basic starting point as making good quality silage continues to be a struggle for many reasons.
It still surprises me how many farmers do not test silage quality. It costs around €40 to do so! Testing silage quality, will inform us as to the energy content of the forage, the protein content of the forage, the intake capacity and any undesirable attributes of the forage also. This then allows for appropriate supplementation with concentrates and other feeds as required.
As energy is the key driver of all animal performance this is the first attribute we must look at.
Nationally we place an over-emphasis on the dietary protein content, and while protein content is extremely import, we must first correct the energy nutrition.
With the pregnant ewe we see dramatic increases in energy requirements from around seven to eight weeks before lambing.
The big increase in demand for protein comes in the final three to four weeks.
I will outline our feeding regime in more detail in the coming articles.
Over the coming months we will be preparing for lambing.
For us this includes organising labour to deal with all the research activity and data that is to be collected around lambing time, welcoming a number of discussion groups to the farm, vaccinating the ewes and ewe lambs against clostridial diseases and assembling the various supplies and equipment for lambing.
Associate Professor Tommy Lyons lectures in sheep production at Lyons Farm, UCD email: email@example.com