Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Pics: Donegal sheep farmer on dealing with tough weather and cash-flow issues

Michael Duffy has had to change the feeding strategy for his sheep by housing them
Michael Duffy has had to change the feeding strategy for his sheep by housing them

John J Cannon

This Teagasc Sheep Technology report brings us into October in the farming life of Michael Duffy, who farms in Kerrykeel on the scenic Fanad peninsula of Donegal, and looks ahead plans for the coming year.

It is fair to say that farming is in crisis in Donegal at present because of the wet weather that has been a constant feature since early July.

While beef, dairy and tillage farmers have suffered most, sheep farmers are also counting the cost of the rain. According to Michael Duffy, "sheep farmers have endured poor lamb thrive, reduced kill-out and increased levels of creep feeding".

The net effect of the poor weather is causing severe cash-flow issues and high merchant debt for many farmers that are still paying off debts caused by a few long winters recently.

Michael Duffy has had to change the feeding strategy for his sheep by housing them
Michael Duffy has had to change the feeding strategy for his sheep by housing them

Lamb sales

The lamb sales pattern was similar to 2015 up until the end of August, but as Table 1 shows, the September performance was well behind previous years. The wet weather has been the major factor in that difference.

sheep table 2.PNG


Recent changes in feeding strategy

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Up until early September, Michael's strategy was to trough-feed meal on grass (300gr/day) to try and get as much weight gain as possible off grass. However, Michael feels "the prolonged spell of wet weather since July has reduced lamb performance because of the very low dry matter in the grass and lambs are using up too much energy for body heat".

To try and overcome these issues, Michael housed 28 ram lambs and 30 ewe lambs on September 10. The results of his small (but unscientific) trial are summarised in Table 3. This table shows that the lambs appear to have a better feed conversion as a result of housing and the ram lambs also had better kill-outs.

Michael regrets not administering a fluke dose in mid-August
Michael regrets not administering a fluke dose in mid-August

This is not something one would expect in normal weather because Teagasc trials would point to the opposite - that the best response is to the first 300 grams fed. One must always be conscious that the poor gain pre-housing could be due to other factors such as grass quality and quantity, parasites etc. However, based on the response to housing, Michael has now over 90 forward store lambs (>42kg) indoors on ad lib meal.

Parasite control

Table 2 outlines the dosing regime followed since August. Michael went in with liver fluke dose to his ewes three weeks earlier than normal because of "local reports, feedback from the factory and a concern over the body condition of my ewe flock. In hindsight I think I should have gone in with a liver fluke dose in mid-August".

Michael plans to dose his ewes again for liver fluke in mid-October, late November and December/January. This will be one extra dose over his 2015 regime.

sheep table 3.PNG

On September 20, Michael dosed all his lambs that were below 42kg for liver fluke with Duotech. He chose this product because "it has an 18-day meat withdrawal period and it has a high kill rate for immature liver flukes that are about six weeks old". He plans to follow up with another fluke dose in the last week of October. He dosed his lambs on September 8-10 using Moxidectin. He will follow up with another worm dose in late October.

Michael also uses the Clostridia vaccine. All his lambs were given a two-course vaccine in May/June 2016. The bought-in replacement ewe lambs were also given a two course vaccination in September.

Store lambs

Michael has not purchased any store lambs to date as he feels that the risk/reward ratio is not favourable at present because of the buoyant store lamb trade.

Breeding policy

Michael plans to mate 290 ewes and 60 ewe lambs this year. This is similar to 2015. The Belclare breed has been used on the Duffy flock to increase the number of lambs born per ewe since 1999.

According to Michael, "the flock would now have at least 30pc-35pc Belclare 'blood' and the scanning rate would normally be 1.9 to 2.0 lambs per ewe and 1.4 for the ewe lambs".

Based on the UK Eblex data, one can expect 13pc-15pc lamb mortality between scanning and weaning.

Michael has eight rams lined up for the mating season as follows: two Belclare, two Texel, two Suffolk and two Charollais, and said: "I will use the two Belclare rams on ewes with the least amount of Belclare blood to get at least 30 good replacements.

"I will also continue to buy in 30 replacements with about 25pc Belclare genetics in them."

Grassland management

The focus over the next period will be on grazing out the fields on a rotational basis. The first fields will be closed off around October 20 and will remain closed until March 2017 as lambing is planned to begin on March 17, 2017.

The next Sheep Tech report will be from Tom Coll, Teagasc Leitrim, in the Farming Independent of November 2016.

My next update on Michael Duffy's progress will be in December.

John J Cannon is a Teagasc sheep adviser based in Donegal

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