Retaining ewe lambs for Blackface sale returning premium prices for Mayo hill farmer
Kevin Mulroe runs a hill sheep enterprise at Letterineen, Tourmakeady, Co Mayo. The farm comprises of 60 acres of 'green land' along with both fenced and unfenced commonage.
A flock of 145 pure-bred Mayo Blackface ewes are kept on the farm, which are mated with Blackface rams, lambing from March 27 onwards.
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The resulting lambs are kept on the farm until slaughter, with any ewe lambs surplus to replacement requirements sold at the annual Mayo Mountain Blackface Sheep Breeders sale in Ballinrobe.
The ewes were scanned at housing in mid-January, which gave a result of 1.6 lambs/ewe as the average litter size, with only one ewe scanning empty. Knowing what each ewe was carrying as well as assessing the condition each ewe was in allowed Kevin to pen his sheep into similar groups and feed accordingly.
The singles were fed a ½lb of meal for the final fortnight before lambing and were lambed indoors. Meal feeding to the couples started in early February at a rate of a ½lb which was stepped up to 1lb closer to lambing. Two weeks before lambing was due to start, the ewes carrying couples were turned out onto fields close to the sheds which had been closed up for spring grass the previous autumn.
They continued to get the same level of meal supplementation as they had been before turnout, and a reduced rate of meal is being fed to these ewes after lambing.
Similar to previous years, Kevin plans to wean all lambs in late July, with the lamb finishing period starting in early August. For Kevin, it is extremely important for lambs to be well developed with large frames before the start of the finishing period. This is essential to ensuring good weight gain before slaughter and good carcase results.
Similar to the last number of years, Kevin aims to be selling factory lambs from early September onwards, and to have all of the factory lambs gone off the farm by the time the next mating season starts in the last days of October.
Meal is introduced to finishing lambs from mid-September at 1lb/day. This system is delivering good carcase results, with the average carcase weight achieved from last year's Blackface ram lambs being 17.5kg. The average live-weight of these lambs at slaughter was 40kg, giving an average kill-out percentage of 43.75pc.
For Kevin, being able to sell the ewe lambs he does not need to retain at the Mayo Blackface Breeders Group annual sale in Ballinrobe mart each September is a major advantage of having a pure Blackface sheep system. These breeding stock sales have consistently returned a premium price for this portion of his lamb sales which significantly increases his output per ewe and net profit.
Kevin's current breeding policy differs from that of years gone by. Previously Kevin would have crossed a large proportion of his Blackface ewes with Suffolk, Texel and Border Leicester rams.
However Kevin noticed that the difference in carcase performance of these crossbred lambs was not significantly better than that of the pure Blackface lambs he now finishes. He also found that using all Blackface has reduced his workload on the farm as they are easier to maintain.
Kevin identifies that the key to achieving good slaughter performance from purebred Blackface lambs is ensuring that both the ewes and rams they are bred from have large frames and good conformation. This will carry through into the lambs and allow higher carcase weights to be achieved with younger lambs.
James Fitzgerald is a Teagasc Walsh Fellow based in Westport, Co Mayo
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