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Lamb thrive and ewes' grassland management will be our main focus in the coming weeks


Ellie McAuley keeps watch as new lambs are born on the McAuley farm in Larne, Co Antrim. Photo:Kevin Scott/ Belfast Telegraph

Ellie McAuley keeps watch as new lambs are born on the McAuley farm in Larne, Co Antrim. Photo:Kevin Scott/ Belfast Telegraph

Ellie McAuley keeps watch as new lambs are born on the McAuley farm in Larne, Co Antrim. Photo:Kevin Scott/ Belfast Telegraph

As you read this, the first round of lambing at Lyons, which comprises about 85pc of all ewes on the farm is complete, having started less than two weeks ago.

To facilitate our research activity, our ewes are oestrous-synchronised using progestogen sponges in October. This results in a short but intensive lambing season.

Due to the compact nature of our lambing, we can offer 24-hour supervision which includes several of our Agricultural Science students from UCD. Michael Roynane supervises the night shift, with Stephen Lott and Ger Egan in charge during the day shift.

Compared to a commercial farm, we, along with other research farms, have an increased workload and hence an increased workforce.

This includes recording data such as lambing difficulty, lamb vigour and mothering ability.

All lambs are tagged within the first 24 hours of life, and the lambs are then linked with their dam using our farm management software. This is an invaluable tool which allows us to track individual animal performance, but it does necessitate a significant time investment.

This year we have the added complication of a large-scale grazing study, as part of Jonathan Higgins' PhD program.

Jonathan is looking at the potential of incorporating alternative forages (such as multi-species swards, red clover based silage swards and forage crops for lamb finishing) into a farming system to increase animal performance and profitability, while also reducing the reliance on expensive external inputs.

With any research study, it is important that different systems are compared fairly. One of our key metrics is lamb performance, and this is influenced by lamb birth weight and gender.

Obviously, we don't know these details until the lambs are born, so we have spent a lot of time in the sheep shed with a laptop capturing this data and assigning ewes and their lambs to their respective treatments.

We aim to turn our ewes and lambs out to grass as soon as possible, but as our grazing area is a considerable distance from the yard, we need to be reasonably confident that weather conditions look good and lambs will be able to deal with any adverse conditions.

This year turnout has been delayed by about seven days as we had heavy rain every day last week.

Holding the ewes and lambs in sheds is possible for us as we have adequate shed space, but it does increase the workload involved with feeding and bedding all these animals.


Once out at pasture, with the exception of ewes rearing three lambs, we do not feed concentrates. The triplet rearing ewes are currently receiving 1.5 kg of concentrate per day, which will be reduced from three weeks post lambing, and these ewes will be weaned at 10-12 weeks of age.

At that stage, the lambs will graze Redstart in a repeat of last years trial for finishing triplet reared lambs.

As part of Jonathan's research, we are measuring ewe faecal egg count, as an indicator of intestinal parasite burden. Our ewes were not dosed in 2019/20.

We know that the ewes' resistance to parasites reduces during late pregnancy, and we are seeing quite a range in the FEC of the ewes immediately post-lambing.

Some ewes have very high counts, and others have almost no parasite eggs in their faeces. Once we have all the data collected, it will be possible to look at these in more detail.

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For the next month, we will be focussed on getting the lambs thriving, through good grassland management for the ewes. Jonathan's grazing study kicked off yesterday and that will involve a huge amount of effort over the next two years in terms of animal management and data recording. We will also begin preparations for the establishment of our Redstart crop for weaning of the triplets. The repeat ewes will lamb in the coming weeks.

Prof. Tommy Boland; Lecturer in Sheep Production, Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. @Pallastb

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