Forage crops a solid option for finishing lambs

Ballybofey and Stranorlar Mart. Photo Brian Farrell
Ballybofey and Stranorlar Mart. Photo Brian Farrell
Doireann Kelly, Evan O'Mahony and Liam Collins at the Bandon/Crossmahon Macra tractor run in Cork. Picture Denis Boyle
John Large

John Large

With no sign of any big amount of rain in the near future, grass supply remains almost non-existent in the southern part of the country. Having to feed meal to most of the lambs is adding a big cost to the primary producer.

Then you see quotes for lambs dropping in price every few days -they are now down to 490c/kg.

When you compare this to the price available a month ago there is a massive drop of €1/kg, which represents a loss of €20/hd on a lamb producing a 20kg carcase. Factories are also more strict on under-finished light lambs, with some imposing 20c/kg penalties on lambs under 16kg carcass at slaughter.

While I understand under-finished lambs are a significant issue and are causing unnecessary problems on the market in terms of both numbers and price, I think the factories could a least stabilise the price and this would give farmers some incentive to feed their lambs meal and get them up in weight before being slaughtered.

This should lead to an improvement for both parties by removing most of the under-finished lambs from the market and the farmer not getting cut on his agreed price. Also not helping the situation is the lack of people not buying store lambs, again due to the lack of grass.

Farmers who would have traditionally bought forward stores at this time of year for a short-term keep, are non existent in the marts.

We will have to wait and see will they return to the market or do they need what grass that will grow "after we get rain" for silage for the other stock on their farms.


As the farmer on the ground what options have I to finish lambs for the rest of this year? Forage crops could play a part. I will sow after winter barley which is already harvested. Unfortunately, it is too late to sow kale.

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However, another crop option is Redstart, a hybrid between kale and rape. The beauty about Redstart is its ability to grow, a full crop takes approximately 90 days. Redstart sown in early to mid-August is capable of yielding 6t of dry matter per hectare. This crop will need 80 units of nitrogen. We will put three bags of 18.6.12 at sowing and top-up the remaining nitrogen after three weeks.

We will sow with a one pass at a rate of 4kg per acre and roll afterwards. The limitations of Redstart are it should only make up 70pc of the animals overall diet. Another source of roughage should be available in the form of silage or for lambs a run back onto a grass field. These fast growing forage crops have an imbalanced mineral profile and they are particularly deficient in iodine, selenium and cobalt. We use a three-way mineral bolus to make up for this imbalance.

Also if you are leaving these crops for grazing late into the year you would need to have them grazed off before mid-February because they then go to reproductive mode which can lead to toxicity.

If there is any flowering in the crop do not attempt to feed to animals as it is poisonous.

Stubble turnips is another rapid growing crop. You can grow a crop and have it ready for grazing in two months.

It's important to know these turnips are not frost resistant and would need to be utilised by late autumn.

All these forage crops have great potential but the one factor we have no control over is the weather, you need rain to get them growing and when grazing in-sutu ground conditions are vital for utilisation.

So when you get a dry spell while you are grazing them there is very little work. However, when the weather is wet you will have to feed a small area every few days which leads to extra work.

I do not intend sowing anything until we get an inch of rain; I just hope that comes before August.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co. Tipperary

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