Get your sheep census in to avoid a potentially hefty fine

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
John Fagan

John Fagan

Storm Eleanor gave us a reminder that it's a long time until June 1 and the start of our official 'summer'.

The scanning has gone well at 1.9 lambs per ewe. The challenge now is to get the lambs onto the ground alive and well.

Over the last number of years, I have found that I have been scanning well, but regardless of my best efforts the best lambing result I can achieve is 1.65 so something was clearly wrong.

My scanner, Gerry Rice, is a top scanner and mistakes are seldom made.

Most deaths at lambing are recorded and I've a fair idea generally what lambs don't make it and why.

What I have discovered is that there has been an underlying problem with abortion in the flock affecting the amount of lambs born.

Re-absorptions mean that some ewes that were previously scanned in lamb ultimately proved to be barren. This is why I have been vaccinating for enzootic and toxoplasma abortion for the last number of years and I expect that this should result in more live lambs on the ground. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I'll divide the sheep up into their different groups based on the amount of lambs they are carrying.

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Singles are getting shipped outside with doubles and triplets receiving proportionately extra feeding. I feed a 21pc soya based ration mixed with silage, but I will not introduce this until the end of the month as lambing is not until March 5.

There's no point in over-feeding them or making the winter housing period any more expensive.

I will cull all the empties, but I have to wait until the end of the month as they are still on retention from their fluke dose.

I might even offload some older in-lamb ewes as I have a lot of sheep and generally the older ladies need more time at lambing and extra feeding. A few punters might be willing to take them on.

Don't forget your sheep census has to be completed by the end of the month.

It's based on the number of sheep on your holding on December 31, 2017 and has to be submitted by January 31.

This is really important. If you don't do this you are liable for a cross compliance penalty and it creates all sorts of issues for your single payment and sheep welfare scheme.

Now that the closing period for slurry and fertiliser is coming to an end it's time to start thinking about fertiliser.

Fertiliser prices are going up so this is going to have a knock-on affect for profitability. You have to shop around. I try to get out one bag of urea on the lambing fields as soon as the weather permits. I also tip out with slurry and get the pressure off the tanks.

You need to feed the closed fields to give them a chance to respond and slurry and urea at this time of year are generally very effective.

So, I'll be busy getting my sheep and grass in order for the month of January and hopefully the weather for Spring 2018 will be a bit kinder than it has been.

The nutrition of your sheep in the weeks prior to lambing is massively important and a requires a delicate balancing act.

It is essential not to over-feed nor under-feed as either can have detrimental consequences. Take time, plan what you are going to do and act accordingly.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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