Farm Ireland

Saturday 15 December 2018

Opinion: We need to plan differently and learn from a dire winter


A stock image of lambs playing in a field
A stock image of lambs playing in a field

Tom Staunton

This spring will be long remembered for all the troubles it has brought. Everywhere that there was grass it was simply too wet to graze.

Like many, I'm hopeful the recent rise in temperatures will continue and will help grass growth. I thought I would get away with not feeding much meal once the ewes went to grass but this wasn't the case. Some batches of ewes needed extra feed and were supplemented where grass was tight.

This was a complete contrast to last year when the ewes went to grass they got no concentrates as the growth was good enough.

I thought April would be safe enough weather wise for lambing but this has not been the case with all the rain and this has made it difficult on hill farms that are lambing at the moment.

Going forward, we all have to review our system following this difficult winter and spring and plan differently. In particular we need to look at:

  • Lambing dates
  • Stocking rates
  • Fodder saved

We should all perhaps look at saving a little more fodder for longer winters if this trend continues.

Old sheds should be adjusted to suit sheep for lambing, while building new facilities should be considered under the TAMS scheme.

We are in a business that is strongly influenced by weather, maybe more so than any other business and it is up to us to prepare ourselves for this by planning ahead.

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Lambing has nearly come to a halt with just a few ewes left to lamb. Ewes are off meal apart from one batch that lambed earlier in April which I hope to take off meal this week.

Silage ground was taken out on April 14 after grazing for a number of weeks. I could have done with these fields for grass but I saw that it would perhaps hinder forage quality and quantity for next winter.

There are a few fields next to the silage ground that I plan to reseed this year. Typhon will be sown in these with grass undersown. It suits that these fields are beside the silage fields as I will be able to fatten the wether lambs on the after grass and be able to let them in and out of the Typhon if needed.

I have seen Typhon on some other farms and lambs fattened well on it. The plan is to get three grazings off it and by the end I will also have a newly-reseeded grass sward for years to come.

Reports of over 2kg of gain/lamb/week are encouraging me to sow it. The hope is that this will help cut back on feeding meal which will be welcomed this year.

Our local Tourmakeady agricultural show is back this year on July 22 after taking a break last year. Shows are great social and community events and it is sad to see many shows and the tradition die away.

The summer show season looks set to be a busy one with many events to attend including the National Sheep Breeders Association show in Cilin Hill, the Teagasc Sheep event in Athenry and Tullamore Show to name a few.

Current prices for lambs, hoggets and ewes are positive with demand looking strong for the summer.

I hope it continues for the year as the cost of production is much higher than usual with the tough spring conditions.

With the current rise in temperatures I will keep a watchful eye for signs of nematodirus worms causing scouring on the older lambs that are grazing. It occurs particularly on ground that was grazed by lambs last spring. The weather also influences outbreaks when a warm spell follows a cold snap.

Lambs over six weeks are most at risk but younger lambs that are stressed where ewes are short of milk are susceptible too.

Dung samples will be taken to keep track of the risk and then white wormer used to combat it. After dosing, dung samples will be tested again to see just how effective the wormer is.

Tom Staunton farms in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

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