Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Rain takes its toll in Donegal

Persistent rainfall since July has resulted in poor grass growth and severe poaching

Michael Duffy with a group of lambs drafted for slaughter at ICM Navan
Michael Duffy with a group of lambs drafted for slaughter at ICM Navan

John Cannon

Since our last update in June from Michael Duffy's farm in Donegal, the focus on sheep farms has been on completing the silage and weaning operations followed by drafting lambs for sale and preparing ewes for next year's lamb crop.

Michael has been busy on all of those tasks. The main topic of conversation at present, though, is the poor weather that we have experienced in the northwest during July and August.

This will come as a shock to many from the southeast who have experienced periods of drought. I heard that one farmer, who takes daily weather records on his farm, said recently that there was only seven days without rainfall during July.

The weather data records for the meteorological station at Malin Head shows that the July rainfall of 109.9mm is 36pc above mean July rainfall of 80.8mm.

This rainfall has given rise to poor grass growth rates and severe poaching, especially on heavy soils, excessive damage during silage making operations and poor lamb growth rates. There has no let-up from the rain in September.


Michael Duffy weaned his flock from July 12-28 (477 and 60 pet lambs). "My average weaning age was 101 days and I was quite happy with the 265grams/day growth rate to weaning. The average weaning weight was 31.95kg.

"The lamb growth rates ranged from 350g/day for the best group to 220g/day for the worst group. I weaned my hoggets on July 12 at an average age of 89 days to give them adequate time to recover before mating".

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Michael had 537 lambs at weaning (477 plus 60 pet lambs). His weaning percentage was quite good at 1.61/ewe and 0.9 per ewe lamb mated.

The lamb sales pattern is similar to 2015 but Michael says the lamb kill-out percentage has not been as good as 2015. All the male lambs are currently on meal - trough fed initially on 300g/day to 1000g/day once they reach approx. 40kg.

All but seven of his 60 pet lambs have now been sold.

Parasite Control

Michael says that the "lambs were given their second worm dose in mid-June (Moxidectin) and I took some faecal samples on July 18th which a low worm counts of 200epg. I gave them their third dose at the end of July (Ivermectin) and a Cobalt drench is given every two weeks. I will take more faecal samples in early September before I dose again". The faecal samples showed the presence of Coccidia so on July 30, Michael gave a Vecoxan dose to 25 lambs that had no weight gain from their previous weighing.

These were moved to aftergrass and outperformed their counterparts who were not given Vecoxan by 127g/day at their next weighing on August 8 (443g/day versus 316g/day). Michael gave 200 of the remainder of his lamb crop a Vecoxan dose in August. He also gave all of his lambs a Clostridial vaccine in June (two shots four weeks apart)

Grassland Management

Michael has a good grass supply at present. He has used very little fertiliser since June but spread some 18.6.12 in early September. He is trying to move his lambs to a fresh field every 5 days and is using his ewe flock to graze out the paddocks. The ewes will be shorn in early September and given a Fluke dose in late September (Triclabendazole).

Store Lambs

Due to the slow-down in grass growth and the lively trade for store lambs, Michael has not purchased any store lambs to date. "I plan to begin buying in September and buy in a similar number to 2015," says Michael.


He plans to mate 360 ewes and 60 ewe lambs this year - similar to 2015. He purchased 30 ewe lambs that are 50pc Texel, 25pc Belclare and 25pc BFM. (Texel bred from Blackface mountain x Belclare ewes). He bought 15 of those from the same farm in 2015.

"In order to reduce the risk of buying in disease my plan is breed my own replacements or buy directly from known sources," says Michael.

In this regard there has been a welcome development in Donegal of a Mule Ewe breeding group.

This arose as a follow up to the Hill Sheep Conference held in February. The group held its inaugural sale in Stranorlar Mart last Saturday when there were 500 Mule ewe lambs and about 150 Mule hoggets for sale.

John Cannon is a Teagasc advisor based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal

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