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Sunday 21 January 2018

Ewes are hitting peak condition ahead of the breeding season

Ewes and lambs are increasing in body condition score at the moment. Photo: Getty Images
Ewes and lambs are increasing in body condition score at the moment. Photo: Getty Images
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

Currently at Lyons we are focussed on preparing the ewes and rams for the breeding season.

For much of the summer conditions were good at Lyons in terms of grass growth and overall weather conditions, but rainfall has certainly increased in the last few of weeks.

Despite this ewes are well on target to meet their required body condition score of 3.5 at mating.

Ewes and lambs are increasing in body condition score at the moment, which is equally as important, if not more so than being at the correct target. I frequently raise this issue in these articles, but it is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to increase output of your flock, by getting ewe body condition score correct at mating. Our ewes will also receive cobalt at mating time, to ensure lamb viability at birth.

This year also has the added complication of changing the make-up of our flock. For the last ten years the Lyons flock has participated in the Sheep Ireland Central Progeny Test program, in what was a very successful partnership for both parties.

However as a research flock, there are always a number of questions to be addressed and this year we are investing in a program to investigate one of these. We have sold the majority of the ewes from the flock, though I am glad to say that some of these will remain within the Central Progeny Test program.

Dr Philip Creighton's work from Teagasc Athenry has shown that increasing flock prolificacy, regardless of stocking rate leads to an increase in flock output and profitability. The work of Dr Creighton, on which Elizabeth Earle completed her PhD, was based on Belclare genetics.

There are however other breeds or cross-breeds of similar genetic potential. To this end we have constructed three flocks of high prolificacy potential, namely a Mule flock, a Belclare cross flock and a Lleyn cross flock. There are other options too, but these selections were based on what is happening at industry level both here and in the UK.

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It is refreshing that there seems to be huge interest in this particular endeavour at farmer level, while it must be accepted that the above genetics, or higher prolificacy flocks will not be for everyone.

Approximately two thirds of each flock will be lambing for the first time in March 2018 as either ewe lambs or hoggets, so it will take another little while to get the correct flock structure in each group. It will also probably add to our work load at lambing time.

Our initial work with the new flocks will be focussed around litter size, weaning rate, conception rate, lambing difficulty and maternal and lamb behaviour, colostrum production and quality, lamb performance to weaning and slaughter.

We will then begin to focus on some more invasive measurements, like feed efficiency, meat quality and animal health parameters. It is the intention to recruit a number of PhD students on to this project over the coming years. The rams used will ultimately be Charollais and Vendeen so as to avoid the breeds present in the maternal lines.

The sheep were purchased privately off farm or from specialist sales in Ballinrobe and Tullamore. With the introduction of sheep from a number of different farms biosecurity is a serious concern.

Quarantine drenches were administered to all animals on arrival, close monitoring of feet was and continues to be conducted to avoid CODD in particular, and we will vaccinate all naive animals with Toxovac and Enzovac.

The new flocks as well as being a research resource will also be an important teaching resource for our students of Agricultural Science in UCD.

Associate Professor Tommy Boland; Lecturer in Sheep Production, Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. @Pallastb tommy.boland@ucd.ie


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