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How this sheep farmer is reducing concentrates input by improving forage quality

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Des Powell from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

Des Powell from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

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Des Powell from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

Des Powell runs a sheep and beef farm with his parents George and Frieda. The farm is made up of 97ha of grassland divided into three blocks, all within around 2km of the main farm, write Frank Campion and Michael Daly.

Des is a participant in the Teagasc BETTER farm sheep programme as well as the Signpost programme.

In September Des and his Teagasc advisors began working on a plan to allow him to farm in a more sustainable way and future-proof his farm against future policy and market requirements.

This is a good time to reflect on the year’s performance and identify what worked well and what didn’t.

Des’s weaning rate from the mature ewes increased in 2021 to 1.5 lambs reared per ewe joined, up more than 0.1 on 2020.

Des is aiming to get this over 1.6 with a tailored breeding policy and a focus on improving body condition score (BCS) at mating time.

The physical performance of the flock needs to be benchmarked against the financial performance and Des is pulling together the data to fill out his profit monitor early next month.

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16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

He will also draw up a spending plan for 2022 as some input prices have increased considerably, and careful management of expenditure will be necessary to ensure the farm does not run up debts it cannot afford to pay back.

The aim for this farm is to develop a grass-based system for the flock with concentrate feeding kept to a minimum.

Feeding concentrates to ewes in late pregnancy is unavoidable as increasing size of the womb restricts the ability of the rumen to expand, reducing the amount of forage they can consume, and they have a rapidly increasing nutrient demand.

But we can reduce the amount we use by increasing forage quality. A twin-bearing ewe, in good body condition carrying twins will need around 14kg more concentrates during the final eight weeks of pregnancy when offered a 60 DMD silage compared to a 75 DMD silage.

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16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

This year Des’s silage analysis has returned a DMD of 74pc, an increase of 3pc on 2020, although the dry matter is lower than desired at 21pc.

Lower dry matter silage reduces the intake potential of the silage but in Des’s case where the ewes are straw-bedded, this will lead to wetter beds, requiring more straw.

However, it is still a good-quality silage overall and will allow Des to reduce his concentrates.

A key component of this will be feeding management.

Regardless of quality and type, it is vital that forage intake is maximised pre-lambing.

Refused forage should be removed twice weekly and ewes should have ad-lib access to forage at all times.

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Regardless of price, it is vital that a good-quality ration is used.

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16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

Feeding a low-quality ration to reduce costs at this time of the year is counter-productive and can lead to ewes lambing with not enough colostrum, in poor body condition and with potentially smaller and weaker lambs.

This can increase the workload at lambing, reduce flock performance for the remainder of the year, increase costs and ultimately reduce the sustainability of the flock.

Pre-lambing rations need to have a high level of cereal for energy and a high level of soya bean meal for colostrum production.

Des is assessing the rations available. In previous years the ration he has offered has been low on protein, so he topped it up with soya bean meal in the final three weeks before lambing started.

At mating time the ewes on the farm were condition scored and had an average BCS 3.2 for the mature ewes, but 24pc were below BCS 3.0.

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16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

16/12/2021 Des Powell Sheep Farmer from Templederry, Co Tipperary. Pic: Don Moloney

 

Target

The target for flocks at mating should be to have ewes at average BCS of 3.5 but as few as possible less than BCS 3.0.

Des is slightly behind target. Some of the thinner ewes were culled prior to the ram being introduced and some that did go to the ram but remain thin at scanning may be culled at that stage.

All the ewes will be handled for body condition at pregnancy scanning time and any time they are out for foot bathing or vaccination in the run-up to lambing.

Thin ewes will be penned separately for preferential feeding so they do not lose too much condition prior to lambing.

This process can be as simple as putting a thin single-bearing ewe in with ewes scanned for twins etc, and can be vital when ewes go to grass after lambing reducing the need to supplement them at this time.


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