Ewes' body condition score will reveal all

Footbaths every two weeks are advised by John Large.
Footbaths every two weeks are advised by John Large.
Mark and Liam Callinan, Inagh, Co. Clare, taking a break at the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef farm walk on Christy Dowd's holding in Ballinagare, Co. Roscommon. Photo: Gerard O'Loughlin
John Large

John Large

Now that all the ewes that lambed in early March are weaned, it is time to start getting ewes ready for their next breeding season.

The most important task is to get the ewes up to at least 3.5 Body Condition Score (BCS) before mating. The key drivers of profit in a sheep flock are, kilos of lamb per hectare, weaning weight of lambs and the number of lambs weaned per hectare.

The most important factor influencing these is the percentage of ewes that are under condition score 3 at mating and at lambing.

It's all about minimising the number of ewes that fall into this category, as these are the ones that are bringing down the overall flock performance.

For this reason once the ewes have been dried off they should be put through the race and physically handled. What you are doing is assessing the amount of condition by feeling the spine and short ribs with your hands.

Score them on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being extremely thin and 5 being over-fat. Don't take too much time as it's not about exact numbers - put a hand on them, make a decision and move on.

My method is that all ewes that go up drafting race below BCS 3.5 need to be marked and drafted off.

Then we usually pick off ewes with a BCS of 2.5 and run them with the ewe-lambs. Some of these ewes may not reach BCS of 3.5 by mating time so some will be culled. We will give BCS 3 ewes good grass as these girls need to put on about 12 kg before early October.

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If we can average a gain of 1kg a week we will just about get there on time.

We should also remember most of the ewes with the lower condition score at weaning are ones that have reared multiples and produced plenty of milk.

So these ewes deserve to be treated properly during the dry period, as they are your most productive animals.

The heavier group of ewes over 3.5 BCS will be used to clean up after the lambs.

Don't forget about these - when they are in the yard go through them and pick off any that are losing condition and transfer them to the other group for more feeding.

There should be no reason for ewes to lose weight on my farm between weaning and mating.

It takes a lot of extra feed to regain weight as opposed to maintaining weight so as the months go on, ewes will be moved up from the lower condition score group when they have put on enough weight.

Lamb fat score

We sold some lambs at weaning. We were happy how they graded and all had a fat score of 3.

Our aim is to keep up the kill weight and try not to kill any lambs with a fat score of 2. This way we should be able to maximize the lambs value. We will weigh lambs every two weeks and sell what is fit.

We hope to finish most of the lambs off grass but if performance drops we will go in with some meal for the last few weeks.

All lambs were dosed at weaning and got their second shot of Heptavac P. We have them divided into three groups, those over 35kg, then a big group that are all over 30kg and smaller group of lambs that we call the 'tail enders'.

The late lambed ewes and hoggets will be weaned next week.

These hoggets will get the best grass available, once they have been dried off as they have some catching up to do having lost weight rearing their lambs.

Just small bit of silage to do this week then concentrate on stock work and some maintenance around the farm.

We have some grass seeds to sow in a paddock where we did some drainage work last year.

This was sprayed off with Roundup a month ago and has been ploughed so now all we have to do is level the ground and get it back growing grass as soon as possible.

John Large is a sheep farmer based in Co Tipperary

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