Donegal sheep farmer's flock is proving highly prolific despite the poor autumn weather


Plate metre analysis indicates that Michael Duffy has reasonable grass covers on his fields
Plate metre analysis indicates that Michael Duffy has reasonable grass covers on his fields

John J Cannon

This report is the latest update from Michael Duffy's sheep farm in Kerrykeel, 23 miles north of Letterkenny on the Fanad Peninsula in Donegal.

Scanning Results

The scanning results for the flock mated in 2017 are displayed in Tables 1 and 2 below.

Michael says they are similar to 2016 and about 0.1 lambs per ewe better than 2017 and the years before 2016".

The results for the ewe flock are excellent by national flock standards at 1.95 lambs per ewe mated, a scanned litter size of 2.01 lambs per ewe (in lamb) and only eight empty ewes out of 300 (2.67pc).

This meets all targets for a highly prolific flock and should deliver a weaning rate of 1.7 lambs per ewe mated if Michael can meet the Eblex target of not exceeding 13pc mortality from scanning to mating.

Reports locally seem to suggest that the 2018 scanning is 'back' on 2017 by 10-15pc.

"I grazed my ewes very well from weaning to mating, but the wet weather from August made things quite difficult with low grass dry matter and poor grass utilisation," says Michael.

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

"I was lucky that despite the continuous rain I managed to keep the ewes out until December 2."

Research by Teagasc shows that a good scan rate/litter size is linked to good body condition scores (BCS) at mating. The target BCS for lowland flocks at mating is 3.5 and 3.0 at lambing.

To cope better at lambing Michael plans to add an additional 15 lambing pens to get to 65 in total.

He is also looking at an automatic feeder for feeding milk replacer to orphan lambs to reduce labour.

Table 2 below shows the scan results for the ewe lamb flock. They scanned at 1.06 which was similar to the 2017 and 2016.

The scanned litter size of 1.44 lambs per ewe lamb (that are in-lamb) is again excellent. "I have too many barren ewe lambs this year (27) and I am putting part of this down to the wet weather prior to, during and after mating in 2017," says Michael. "I went back and looked at the liveweights and body condition scores (BCS) of these ewe lambs and found that there were eight empty out of the heaviest 50pc (that averaged 60kg.). The other 50pc averaged 53kg but they had 19 empty."

Within that 50 there were 10 empty out of 25 with the lowest BCS and nine empty out of the next 25 (with the highest BCS).

Ewe Management

Michael has grouped his ewes according to ewe BCS and scanning rates.

Ewes are being fed between 0.15kg and 0.8kg per head per day with ad-lib precision chop silage that is 72pc DMD and has a dry matter of 19.0pc (wet). Ewe lambs are being fed between 0.24kg and 0.53kg. per head per day.

Even with those supplementation levels, body condition is being checked weekly and thin ewes being pulled out for extra feeding.

"Lambing is due to begin in seven weeks (March 17) so I only have about two to three weeks to improve a ewes BCS."

After that all the feeding will be partitioned towards the lamb(s) in the womb. When I asked Michael about dosing he said: "I dosed my ewes against Liver fluke on December 20 with Rafoxanide.

"This was the third dose since August and I will give them a Closantel dose around February 5."

Purchased Store Lambs

Michael bought 500 store lambs in December as he was back farming on a full-time basis. They averaged 34 kg, are mostly ewe lambs and he hopes to slaughter them in April when the majority of ewes are lambed.

Grassland Management

The response to closing off fields in October and November 2017 is shown in Table 3. This shows the grass heights on Michael's farm, measured on January 29 and compares them to a similar measurement taken on January 13 last year.

Grass cover in spring is related to closing dates with fields closed before mid-November usually having reasonable covers. 'Field 2' was a field that ended up with a high cover in August and was grazed rather than being cut.

Utilisation was poorer than hoped for due to the high rainfall. In comparison 'Field 4' was reseeded five years ago but in 2017 was targeted with additional slurry, Phosphate and Potash (P & K) to improve

soil fertility. Overall, Michael has reasonable covers there and he plans to apply about 30 units of Nitrogen (as one 50kg bag of 18.6.12 and .25 bag of 46pcN Urea per acre) before March 1 when ground conditions, soil temperature and the weather improves.

There should be good covers when ewes and lambs go out from March 20 onwards.

He will use 18.6.12 again in 2018 as his main fertiliser to try and get Soil P up to Index 3. He may also may creep feed one group of lambs this year to try and reduce the grazing pressure in the autumn.

John Cannon is a Teagasc advisor based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal email:

The next Sheep Tech report will be from Tom Coll in our March 8 edition.

Indo Farming

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App