Mild winter boosts grass growth on the Fanad Peninsula

The mild and dry winter means Michael Duffy should have adequate grass for his flock in March

Michael Duffy, his daughter Aishling and dog Dora inspecting the housed ewes on the farm at Kerrykeel in north Donegal
Michael Duffy, his daughter Aishling and dog Dora inspecting the housed ewes on the farm at Kerrykeel in north Donegal

John Cannon

Rain has dominated my reports from Michael Duffy's farm on the Fanad Peninsula since June of last year so I am happy to report that the weather has finally taken a turn for the better since October.

While September was the wettest month here with only two dry days, October was the driest month so far in 2016 with only two days of rain.

November was quite dry also and this trend continued into mid December resulting in improved grass growth and utilisation.

"Soil conditions improved which meant that I did not have to house my ewes as early as I originally feared".

Michael Duffy checks grass growth on one of the fields he closed on November 1
Michael Duffy checks grass growth on one of the fields he closed on November 1

The wet September prevented Michael shearing so he began shearing and housing his ewes at his farm in Kerrykeel on November 30.

All of the 285 ewes and 60 ewe lamb replacements (mated) were shorn and housed by December 10.

"I wasn't happy with ewe body condition scores (BCS) so I ran them through the race and penned them according to BCS.

"There are about 15pc of them needed extra feeding between now and scanning. The wet September was also a severe month for the ewe lamb replacements that are still growing".

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All the sheep are on 71 DMD silage (CP 12.7 & ME 10.9). However, the pH is only 4.4 and with DM of 20.9, palatability could become an issue later on as the feeding face is exposed to the air.

"Based on my experience of the last two years I am feeding my ewes 0.2kgs of concentrate and my ewe lambs are getting about 0.8 kg/day. Both are on a 13pc CP lamb finishing ration but I will add some soya bean meal to the ewe lambs at a rate of 1:6 to bring the CP to 18pc. I am adopting this approach so that I only have one type of ration to purchase at present."

Winter Shearing

In a 2013 Teagasc media article entitled 'Efficient sheep production in a subsidy free environment - Research from Athenry' it states that December shearing of March lambing ewes results in lambs that are up to 0.6kgs heavier at birth and 2.4kgs heavier at weaning when compared to lambs from ewes that were housed but not shorn.

This is because of higher intakes of silage by the shorn ewes.

"The data from this study illustrate, that shearing housed ewes increases subsequent lamb performance such that they are fit for slaughter two weeks earlier than lambs from housed ewes which were unshorn," states the study.

Grassland Management

Another Teagasc Athenry researcher, Philip Creighton, maintains it is the growth before Christmas that counts as growth from January 1 until lambing can be very disappointing. Table 2 shows the closing off strategy adopted by Mr Creighton in Athenry.

Michael Duffy says he started closing off this year on October 25.

"I closed approximately 2ha. I had 5ha closed by November 5. I closed another 3ha in mid- November, followed by 8ha on December 1. By December 12 I had 38 ha (94ac) closed off and there was a reasonable cover of about 5cms on the November 1 closed fields," Michael says.

"I may not have adhered to Philip Creighton's targets but if the weather stays in January there should be adequate grass in March for my projected lambing flock of 335 ewes," he forecasts.

"I am a bit concerned about some patches of yellowing that I notice in many fields this autumn. At the moment I am putting it down to the very wet September we had but am not fully convinced. I will raise it at our sheep discussion group meeting and see if others have noticed anything similar."

Lamb Sales 2016

Michael's lamb sales were behind previous years' patterns until October but have caught up since. He has about 85pc sold at present. He would like to be getting more sold in the June to September period and feels that better grassland management is the key.

Store Lambs

Michael has over 1,000 store lambs purchased this year and very few of those have been sold to date. These lambs have been treated as per 2015 as follows: two wormers (yellow and clear); Ovivac; Triclabendazole for those less than 40kgs and Duotech for those above 40kgs; footbath, Cobalt and grass for two to three weeks and introduced to meals. They are then shorn as they are housed.

John Cannon is a Teagasc drystock and business advisor based in Mohill, Co Leitrim.

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