Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

I am sizing up permutations on the best lambing dates

John Fagan

John Fagan

There's a lot of permutations and combinations that need to be considered at this time of year when it comes to making a decision about lambing date.

Easter 2017 is relatively late next year falling on April 16. Ramadan 2017 starts another 11 days earlier, May 27.

These dates have to focus the mind somewhat on how the sheep trade is going to pan out. Could it be a year to lamb a little earlier and push lambs on a little faster to avail of the higher prices that usually occur around these dates?

Could it be a year when hoggets fill the gap in late May? What will happen in summer when the big supply of lambs come on line? Will demand stay strong enough to maintain a lamb price that can help me pay the bills and bring the other half on a holiday?

To be honest overthinking these things doesn't really help matters. I'm not sure that it would make a massive difference either way and there's not much point stressing about it either. What I do know is that no year in farming is ever the same. That's what keeps it interesting. I think that I will just stick to what I normally do and let the rams out on October 5 with the aim of starting lambing on March 1, as I have always done.

At the time, and weather depending, I'll certainly consider pushing lambs on a bit faster and try and get as many away as possible in June.

The most important thing to consider for mid- season lambing is, whether you have enough grass for the ewes and lambs to let them out as quickly as possible?

The best way, I have found, to ensure this is to earmark now the fields you intend to use in early spring, and start closing them off grazing now until then. Fail to do this and you may as well prepare to fail. You will run into trouble with poor lamb thrive, your ewes will have to feed off their backs, which they can only sustain for a short time, your grass won't get a good start, and you'll end up having to buy in feed for lambs and all the extra costs associated with that.

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Plan your grazing for the spring now or you will suffer the consequences. It's not a lot of fun lambing sheep with nowhere to let them out. It's actually the fastest way to lose money and possibly your mind.

I've been feeding the rams for the last few weeks and keeping an eye on lameness and footbathing them regularly. I run roughly one ram to 40 ewes. It's quite generous.

I know of farmers who run one ram to one hundred ewes. But having plenty of rams, I find, compacts the lambing.

The ram effect pre-breeding is also a handy way of shortening the lambing. This is done by placing the rams in a paddock adjacent to and in sight of the ewes about a week or 10 days out from breeding.

This gets the ewes cycling and tightens up the lambing period.

There is nothing that gives me more joy than lambing the last ewe at the end of the lambing season and the quicker this happens, the happier everyone is.

I recently made my annual pilgrimage to the west of Ireland to enrich the farmers of Mayo. Each time I go they seem to think that it's Mayo's year and they're going to do the divil and all in Croke Park. I just nod and agree. Some day I suppose it will happen for them. Each time I come back poorer however, but generally happy with my retail therapy.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

Indo Farming