'Last year's weather has pushed me in a different direction'

Michael Duffy on his farm in Kerrykeel, Co Donegal; (inset below) Michael testing the silage crop.
Michael Duffy on his farm in Kerrykeel, Co Donegal; (inset below) Michael testing the silage crop.

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.

Lambing has concluded on the Duffy farm, the remaining hoggets have been slaughtered, the weather has been reasonably dry and soil temperatures have steadily improved.

"Lamb mortality post lambing was 12pc, with six ewe/hogget deaths which was acceptable at 1.5pc," said Michael.

"Four ewes died from a range of issues: pneumonia, one with a twisted lamb bed, one sudden death pre-lambing and one ewe just lost condition and died.

"The two hogget deaths were due to a prolapse during the night post-lambing and one with septicaemia after having two decomposed lambs. I now have 62 'pet' lambs being artificially reared.

"Fifty of those are off milk replacer and on ad-lib meal with a little straw. I only got the automatic milk feeder operating recently as there was always a more pressing task."

Michael testing the silage crop
Michael testing the silage crop

"In Donegal, while we did not get the high rainfall that Munster and East Leinster experienced, temperatures stayed below normal in April which meant that grass growth was poor up until mid-April when things gradually began to improve.

"I now have seven groups of ewes and lambs, one group of dry hoggets (plus a few dry ewes) and my ram group being grazing on thirty two fields," said Michael.

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"Two groups of ewes/hoggets with lambs are being set stocked which means that the bulk of my flock in five groups of ewes and lambs are rotationally grazing 29 fields, which is much better as they have on average six fields per group"

"One group has seven fields, while another has four. The rams and dry ewes are following ewes and lambs, cleaning up."

"I closed 18 acres for silage on April 18 and stopped meal feeding to all the ewes except the hoggets.

"While my ewes have milked well and lamb performance appears good, I am creep feeding 230 lambs," continued Michael.

"The experience of last year, wet weather from mid-July on, pushed me in this direction. I think that I will get a better response, use less meal and hopefully get more lambs away before September which will leave more grass for after weaning.

"This should mean that my ewes have a body condition score (BCS) of 3.5 at mating."

Grassland Update

I visited Michael on May 22 and he told me he was walking his fields at least once a week, assessing grass cover and moving stock accordingly.

He was 'comfortable' for grass and while he had no major surplus at that stage (or covers above 8cm), he said he would have to withdraw some fields from the grazing area. Grazing would be out of control in seven to 10 days.

We visited a grazing group of hoggets and lambs, and Michael pointed out "this group has four fields for grazing; they are two days in the present field which has four to five days grazing left; the next two fields have eight days grazing and then there is the field they left two days ago.

"We are looking at temperatures in the mid to high teens for the next 10 days and I have 15-18 days now so I could end up with 25 days ahead if I do nothing."

Teagasc's advice is to keep days ahead to about 10 days in late May and early June because at this time of year good grassland will be ready for re-grazing 10 days after the previous grazing.

However, that is not the full story as the four remaining groups being rotationally grazed will also end up with surplus grass.

Michael will need to withdraw some fields from each group. "From a practical point of view I will move stock and cut the fields nearest the yard to make bale transport easier," said Michael.

"I have applied two fertiliser dressings on my grazing land to date (60 units N/acre) and I intend following Teagasc's advice by continuing to apply some fertiliser after each grazing -approximately 10 units N/acre."


We walked his silage fields that were closed on April 18 and while there was some variation from field to field, the overall crop was reasonably good.

These had received approximately 90 units of nitrogen in the form of 3000 gallons of slurry, 100 kg of 10.10.20 and 100kg of CAN (27.5pcN) per acre.

Michael has 18 acres closed for silage and calculates that he will need an additional 100 bales of silage.

He plans to get this by taking five to six acres of second cut and the remainder from surplus grazing. He planned to cut around May 30, but cut on May 29 because of the excellent weather. I carried out sugar tests on grass samples from two fields on May 28 and they indicated sugar levels of 1.5pc and 2pc. Both samples indicated high nitrate levels, so I advised spreading out and wilting for at least 24 hours and preferably a bit more depending on the weather.

To ensure good preservation, grass should have a sugar percentage of 3pc or above.

The weather at present is ideal for silage cutting and wilting. Grass would need to be left wilting for 36 hours if not spread out.

Parasite Control

Michael told me "all lambs have been dosed with a white wormer for Nematodirus control. I started dosing on May 4 and the last group was dosed on May 11.

"I will not dose my ewes for liver fluke/rumen fluke based on the vet reports for some cull ewes that I sent to ICM this week.

"They showed no evidence of rumen fluke or liver fluke but the livers did show damage that occurred sometime in the past."

I enquired if he had any other issues and he replied "there is Orf in two groups of lambs but 'Orf M' seems to be controlling it.

"My biggest issue is scald. I have been foot bathing lambs regularly since April (most groups have been foot bathed three times) to keep the problem under control and will continue to do so while the problem persists."

John Cannon is a Teagasc advisor based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal email: john.cannon@teagasc.ie

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