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Thursday 16 August 2018

It's time to take stock after a relentless lambing season

John Large has a 620 strong flock in mid Tipperary.
John Large has a 620 strong flock in mid Tipperary.
Lambing season is coming to an end
John Large

John Large

Last month I was keeping fingers crossed for a few weeks of fine weather but for the two weeks of lambing all we got was a few fine days.

The weather really put pressure on for space as ewes and lambs could not be moved out to the fields quickly enough.

We just had to move ewes, keeping the pens where the ewes were lambing full and use the freed-up pens for ewes with lambs.

The first lambs were born on March 4 and the last arrived on St Patrick's Day. In 13 days we recorded over 900 lambs. These were all tagged, weighed, tailed and the rams castrated. They had to be penned up individually, inspected to make sure they were sucking their mothers and they also had their navels disinfected.

When ewes have to be treated as individuals, not on a flock basis, the labour requirement goes through the roof.

We had good labour with everyone working as a team and showing an interest in what they were doing.

When you lamb this amount of ewes over such a short space of time, pre-lambing management of the ewes is a huge factor.

We had strong healthy lambs and the ewes had plenty of milk.

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These were the two most important factors in reducing labour pressures and keeping lamb mortality at a low level.

We recorded about 5pc mortality which is extremely low. I know we lost some lambs since they were let out, including a few casualties in one field where shelter was a problem on one very wet day.

However, we have had very few lambs going to "the fox" as we are using an oil-based deterrent product on their necks which seems to be doing its job.

Most of the lambs we lost at lambing were from multiple births.

We also lost ewes before lambing, a few from prolapse and a couple from listeriosis. These were mainly carrying triplets. There mightn't have been enough space in the pens so this is something we will look into again because there is room for improvement.

Lamb birth weight has an effect on mortality levels. Our average birth weight was 4.6kgs, going from a small quad lamb of 1.5kg to a massive single of 9.2kg. Average weights were 4.9kg for twins, 5.6kgs for singles and 3.9kgs for multiples.

We always try to have good twin lambs that require very little help at lambing - not too big that the ewe requires help to lamb but lambs strong enough that they get up and suck themselves. This way we can concentrate on the singles and multiples.

We managed to foster on nearly 80 lambs to single ewes. This is a time-consuming job with a lot of recording to be carried out, but our strike rate is good. When we give the ewes and adopted lambs an extra day in an individual pen it helps.

The priority now is to keep ewes milking well. Because of the weather, we have very little grass growth so we are feeding all ewes outside an 18pc crude protein nut at a rate of 1kg once per day.

Any ewes that are still indoors for over a week need 1.2kgs of ration with good hay available to them. These are being fed twice a day. We have to get more ewes and lambs out to make space for repeat ewes and ewe lambs.

We have got a few cases of Joint-ill, mostly outside where ground conditions are poor. We seem to have a few after a field gets messy, especially where the lambs and ewes congregate for shelter.

Our treatment is penicillin for five days. We make sure not to stop treatments early as recurrence is very possible. Most have recovered well.

After this cold, wet and late spring we will look at stocking rate again.

Maybe the last two years spoiled us and we may have to look at decreasing ewe numbers, especially as our scanning rate has increased to very near two lambs per ewe.

Looking back over this lambing season, it went well but the work involved is massive. One of our workers described it as "relentless". There is no break from lambing a synchronized flock once they get going.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary.


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