With only four weeks to go before lambing starts, now is the time to make sure all preparations are in place.
Lambing is the most important time of the shepherd's year, but don't forget it's the sheep's too. It is essential to be prepared.
Preparations include managing and feeding the ewes properly, getting lambing facilities ready, and getting necessary supplies.
Given that 70pc of foetal growth occurs in the last four to six weeks of pregnancy, most of the ewes' udder growth is occurring during this period as well. Also, the rumen capacity of the ewe is decreasing, and she now needs increased feed, primarily a more nutrient-dense diet. Extra nutrition is needed to support foetal growth, especially if there are multiple foetuses involved.
Additional feed is also needed to support mammary development and ensure a plentiful milk supply.
Proper nutrition will help to prevent pregnancy toxemia and will also ensure the birth of strong, healthy lambs, not too big and definitely not too small.
Lamb birth weight can be correlated to lamb survival: smaller lambs have a lower rate of survival but, remember, so do lambs that are too big. We divide ewes into groups by their scan results and their condition score.
Make sure they have plenty of trough space so they all can eat without being bullied and pushed away from the feed rail. We put an extra trough into pens when ewes get near lambing, and this takes the pressure off the feed rails.
When the rate of nuts goes over 0.5kg, we will feed twice daily. This helps to prevent any digestive upsets from overeating in one feed. We also restrict roughage - either hay or silage - to triplet-bearing ewes. Remember, sheep also consume up to six litres of water per day if they are on dry feed, so having a fresh supply of clean water is critical. All ewes are vaccinated against Clostridial diseases with Tribovax 10, giving the lambs protection for the first two months of life.
This job should be done four to six weeks before lambing as vaccinated ewes will pass antibodies to their newborn lambs via the colostrum.
We will have individual pens ready in time for lambing - there's nothing as frustrating as trying to put up pens with ewes lambing and nowhere ready to put them.
Our most time-consuming job when ewes are in individual pens is providing them with water. This year, we will try to provide some of these pens with a water supply for each ewe.
We are feeding a nut this year. We have a meal bin outside, and the nuts are blown into the bin from the truck, which eliminates dust being blown around the shed. We can fill the bucket on the loader direct from the meal bin, which reduces the manual carrying of buckets of meal.
These few changes should be a help at lambing time.
Now is the time to stock up with all the lambing needs, from prolapse restrainers, tailing rings, iodine, gloves, stomach tubes and plenty of spray cans.
Also, make sure you have some form of tags which can easily be put in the ears of ewes that do not perform properly at lambing. This will ensure they are easily identified for culling.
Hopefully, all will be ready in time, and we get a few good weeks of weather in early March.
John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary