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Sunday 19 November 2017

How one farmer has lowered lambing mortality rate on his farm

Lambing season is coming to an end
Lambing season is coming to an end

Tom Staunton

Another busy and eventful lambing season is coming to an end with less than 10 ewes left to lamb.

The remaining few will all have Mountain Blackface (Lanark type) lambs. The Lanark rams were let with the ewes at the end of the breeding season to cover any repeats.

Overall we had a very successful lambing season with mortality running around the 5pc mark, which is well on target for the farm.

Lowering mortality at lambing didn't happen by chance. Several factors contributed to reducing mortality this year including;

  • Good supervision at lambing
  • A good balanced and calculated diet pre-lambing
  • An increase in lamb birth weights
  • A good supply of milk at the ewes
  • Preparation for lambing

The above points all played a part. I often find stepping back and evaluating a situation to see where we can improve matters or see what worked. This process can be applied to everything done on the farm.

This spring I washed the udders of the ewes after lambing when the ewes were in the individual lambing pens. I found this very beneficial for many reasons. I could identify ewes with mastitis, ewes blank on one side, milkiness, colostrum levels, large teats which are difficult for lambs to suckle.

I believe cleaning the teats of ewes coming off straw bedding or slats helps prevent lambs pick up disease from dirty teats. Infections can become a big problem when lambing indoors: good hygiene is critically important to prevent infection.

Supervision at lambing is important and particularly when lambing indoors. Mis-mothering can be a problem if too many ewes lamb together without supervision. We took it in shifts at night, making sure that someone was on watch at all times.

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Tagging

I have started tagging any ewes with a red tag that caused problems in the spring e.g. ewes that had mastitis, poor milking ability, poor quality lambs etc. I tagged the ewes at turnout that caused problems so I wouldn't forget them at culling time. If the ewe or lambs aren't thriving, I then decide whether to keep them or not.

I will access ewes at weaning to see if their lambs are growing well. Health is something I also put a big emphasis on when selecting replacements and when culling. A healthy flock is key to better output, better growth rate, reduced costs and better efficiency.

Lambs were let out to grass after 24 hours unless there was some problem with either ewe or lamb. The weather which was good for most of the lambing allowed us get lambs out to grass as soon as possible without creating a backlog in the shed. There were only two days when I didn't get lambs out to grass due to weather.

Grass growth was good over the winter and the advantage of having fields saved since last October/November meant that there was a good accumulation of grass for ewes and lambs this spring. By having the ewes indoors over the winter gave the ground a break which allowed for more grass this spring. A luxury I wasn't used to since I had always lambed outdoors.

I didn't feed any meal to ewes at turnout apart from some old ewes that were kept. These got some extra feeding to help them along. This was a huge saving for me. I haven't done any figures yet but I have definitely fed less this spring than ever before.

I dosed all ewes at turnout with a wormer which covers both lungworms and stomach worms. I am hoping this will have benefits for ewe health and lamb health which in turn will improve lamb performance.

Tom Staunton farms at Tourmakeady, Co Mayo.

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