John Large: Exceptional start to the year has given us a grass boost


John Large at his farm in mid Tipperary.
John Large at his farm in mid Tipperary.
John Large

John Large

It's been an exceptional start to the New Year with land dry enough for ploughing, hedge-cutting and slurry spreading. Long may it continue.

I just hope we get a few weeks dry in early March to get ewes and newborn lambs out to grass.

Even fields that were closed off in late November have a good cover of grass on them.

But we're hoping that we don't get too much frost or an east wind that will burn all the grass that has grown over the last two months.

If we get an early and kind spring we will not need to feed much meal to ewes on grass after lambing.

A good spring would be beneficial from a financial and labour point of view.

We will spread half a bag of urea on all dry fields next week - if the weather stays dry. We will apply cattle slurry to some bare fields. This should push on grass growth even more.

We scanned the ewes on New Year's Eve and results are similar to last year with over 75pc conception to AI, 52pc of them carrying twins, 22pc with singles and plenty of work with 26pc carrying triplets.

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This gives us just over two lambs per ewe. All the triplets are housed and being fed hay and 300g of meal. The singles are also inside getting just hay. These will not receive any meal until three weeks before they are due to lamb. Most of the twins are out on rented grass.

Grass quality is excellent with enough there to keep them happy until the first week of February.

They will be housed and fed silage and meal for a month before lambing. If these ewes come back in very good condition, we may just feed some of them on soya-bean meal only.

Some farmers who fed only soya to ewes in good condition last year were happy, with the ewes producing good lambs and had plenty of milk.

You need to be feeding very good quality silage for this system to work. The most important group of ewes to feed immediately after scanning are the ones carrying triplets.

The longer we can feed these before lambing the better, giving three even lambs of good weight - 4kg each would be our aim.

By scanning early - about 80 days after AI - we have 10 weeks until lambing which is all needed to feed these ewes carrying three lambs. If not scanned early or not given proper feeding early enough, this will lead to thin ewes with small lambs and very little milk to feed them.

We have another group of ewes that repeated after AI, and 60 more that have to be scanned again in early February. These ewes are on fodder-beet tops; again with the unusual dry weather this month, utilisation of the tops is excellent and we should get another two weeks out of this field. They will then finish off whatever fodder-rape that is left to eat.

Our group of dry ewe lambs are on a field of rape and turnips that was sown in early September. They will be there until early March unless the weather gets really wet. We are not feeding any hay or silage to these but they have a run-back to stubble ground and are thriving very well.

We sold some hoggets last week off fodder-rape only; they weighed 47kg live and died 22kg, which gave us a kill out of 47pc.

This is as high as killing off an ad-lib meal diet, but the cost of feeding them is a lot less. Again, I know a lot can be weather-related. There was good growing weather in November and December and now we have excellent utilisation of the crop. If you are not prepared to take the risk in August to sow the crop, you cannot expect to reap the reward now.

Our next jobs include a lot of stakes that need to be driven and wire that need to be replaced. And I must not forget to apply for the sheep welfare scheme and return my sheep census form.

John Large farms at Gortnahoe, Co Tipperary

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