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Friday 14 December 2018

Factories must show more commitment on ewe numbers

File photo
File photo
John Large

John Large

We put the rams out with all the ewes on October 29 to pick up repeats after AI.

The good news is that not many ewes are raddled yet, maybe 5pc, but we will have to wait and see how many are raddled after the second cycle.

The day we inserted the sponges all the ewes were weighted and condition-scored. Ewes' body-condition score was 3.5 on average, but some ewes - particularly younger ewes that lambed for the first time last spring - had a lower body score. Our average ewe weight was down nearly 5kg from last year's 73kg. Again, the younger ewes were light, probably due to the difficult spring and summer just gone.

With good supplies of grass for ewes since mating, we should be able to increase weight and body condition score before housing. Ewes are in two groups, with the thinner ones on the best meal for now. Rams will be removed in early December.

When mating is finished the rams will get a complete health check and will get plenty to eat so they recover lost body weight.

I find ram-lambs need special attention after mating; a good dose for worms and some meal is money well spent.

Rams are expensive but a few simple steps can make sure they are around for next year's mating.

We are not putting any ewe-lambs to the ram this year. They are a bit behind in weight.

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Also, since I do well to sell one lamb per ewe lamb to the ram, you have to question the return from ewe-lambs. When you add up the extra meal that you feed before lambing, the meal fed while they are rearing their lambs, and the feed the lambs need before they are slaughtered, I can't say that it pays. There is not much profit after you pay the extra meal bill and pay for the extra labour you need at lambing time.

There is a cost in running them dry but we will use them to graze after the ewes and lambs next year.

We had 40 dry hoggets this year and they were 7kg heavier than the ones that reared lambs. With no previous lambing experience, we'll see if they'll be good mothers, come lambing time.

With the arrival of the rain we will house cows and calves this week. They are getting a daily allocation of grass and ground is holding up well, but we could use this grass from now on for ewes, with less chance of poaching. Last year we poached one field badly in September/October and it produced very little grass this spring, so we do not intend to repeat that process.

With lamb prices almost stationary at around €4.80/kg for the last few months, it is still a struggle to keep over €100 per lamb after you pay killing charges and transport.

Looking at the year-on-year sheep kill nationally, we have 2pc or 20,000 fewer lambs killed this year than last year, but we have 18pc or 50,000 more ewes and rams killed than in 2017.

What does this tell us? With less lambs around after the tough start to the year, prices should rise until next spring.

Hopefully, this will mean store buyers will be paid for their investment.

We should also keep an eye on numbers of ewes being killed, and factories must take note of this.

If ewe numbers fall, it's a signal that people are either scaling back or getting out of sheep farming.

Given how few young people are entering this sector, I cannot see who is going to make up these lost numbers.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary

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