Regular weighing and handling can help maximise lambs' sale value

Pat Kenny and James Nolan, Roundwood, first prize winners in the Suffolk Hoggets at the Suffolk Show and Sale at JP&M Doyle Mart, Blessington. They are pictured receiving the cup from Stephen Doyle. Photo: Adrian Melia
Pat Kenny and James Nolan, Roundwood, first prize winners in the Suffolk Hoggets at the Suffolk Show and Sale at JP&M Doyle Mart, Blessington. They are pictured receiving the cup from Stephen Doyle. Photo: Adrian Melia
John Large

John Large

As I start to write this article, I can hear the rain falling gently on the roof of the house. I'm not sorry, as ground has really dried out in this part of the country over the past week or two.

Grass growth has slowed and some parts of the fields are starting to burn. Most of this was caused by a combination of the high temperatures and wind. A good drop of rain now will push on growth again so we can build up grass for the back end of the year.

We will spread the entire farm over the next few weeks with 1.5 bags of pasture swart. This will be the last fertilisation round of 2016. We also have a small amount of cattle slurry to spread, which will go out on to fields that are grazed out by the dry ewes. We have sown fodder rape after winter barley (August 2) which is just starting to appear over ground.

The rain will be a benefit to this crop as well. Fodder rape crop can produce a large bulk of feed in a short space of time. It can be sown from May to September in the southern part of the country.

Seeding rates depends on the method of sowing, either broadcast where you may need to use up to 4.5kg/ac, or if using a direct drill for sowing, you can cut seed rates back to less than 3kgs/ac.

The fertiliser required is generally three bags of 18.6.12 per acre. We usually spray to kill off volunteer barley which can pose a problem where the rows of straw fall from the combine.

We will use this crop to finish lambs in November and December. When feeding, we allow the lambs access to a round bale of silage as a roughage source. A dose containing high iodine is also a help.

We hope to sow another field after spring barley in the coming week. The real bonus for me from these crops comes when lambs are dosed for worms and go on to clean ground.

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At this point, you get the worm burn removed and lambs have a great chance to thrive.


We are drafting lambs for slaughter every two weeks. Like it or not, lamb producers have no control over the price per kilo we receive for our finished product on any given day of the year.

However, we have control over lamb weight and fat cover. With regular weighing and handling of lambs for fat cover, we can maximise the value of our lambs.

Having been disappointed with the first few lots we killed after weaning - our fat cover was low with some lambs falling into fat score 2 - we decided to feed lambs over 40kgs live weight with meal at a daily rate of 250gr per head.

This has both improved fat cover and kill-out percentage. We are drafting lambs at a live weight of 44kgs and they are killing out at nearly 21kgs.

To avoid a big variation in kill-out, we put the lambs in first thing in the morning and weighed them before lunchtime. There can be a big difference in gut-fill of lambs, which will influence kill-out percentage.

So our plan is by having lambs somewhat empty, we should be able to pick off a more even batch for killing, keeping the live weight range tight to avoid underweight lambs and keeping overweight lambs to a minimum.

We have seen a positive relationship between carcass weight and confirmation, with heavier carcasses providing us with more U grades. However, be careful, as weight also gives more fat cover.

We will continue to feed lambs when they come to around 40kgs - usually it only takes about three weeks on meal to have them ready for slaughter.

They are getting nothing fancy in the form of meal, just a three-way mix of barley, citrus and maize gluten. They are also on the best grass available.

We have our ewe lambs shorn and we hope to mate 100 of them in November to lamb early next April.

They now have to revive their vaccinations, with a shot of both Toxo and Enzovac to prevent abortions. These will be given on the one day, one on either side of the neck.

These vaccinations are expensive, costing close to €8 per animal, so care should be taken to administer them properly. The one shot covers the ewe for her breeding life, so the pain isn't that bad when you break down the cost over five or six years.

These ewe lambs will have to thrive on well for the next two months to achieve a live weight of 45kgs before mating.

Over the next month, all ewes will be dipped and given a mineral dose four weeks before AI is due to start.

John large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary.

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