Scanning results point to a hectic lambing season for this Donegal farmer

Michael Duffy's flock have returned excellent scanning results so it should be a busy spring for the Donegal farmer, writes John Cannon

Teagasc advisor John Cannon and Michael Duffy on Michael's farm in Kerrykeel, Co Donegal
Teagasc advisor John Cannon and Michael Duffy on Michael's farm in Kerrykeel, Co Donegal

John Cannon

A lot has happened since our last report from Michael Duffy's farm in October.

Michael has made a big change in the farmyard, the ewes have been mated successfully and Michael and family took a well deserved holiday in the US over the Christmas.

They left on December 20 and returned on January 7. They visited Arizona and Colorado and spent four days skiing during the Colorado leg of the trip.

The farm ran smoothly under the supervision of Michael's father William and Michael had his flock scanning arranged to coincide with his return.

Flock Update

Ewe body condition at mating was excellent in 2018 due to flock management and the excellent grass growth during the summer (unlike the drought hit southern counties).

Table 1 shows the 2019 scanning data for the Duffy flock. Overall scanning result is excellent with 2.02 lambs scanned per ewe mated and a litter size of 2.22 per ewe.

This compares with a scanning rate of 1.95 and litter size 1.99 in 2018.

Michael says that "the ewe flock has increased by six ewes but the scan data shows an extra 32 lambs.

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However there is one major surprise with 27 barren ewes, which is almost 9pc compared to less than 3pc in 2018".

Michael has looked at this issue but so far hasn't been able to pinpoint a cause.

"I 'single sired/mated' the flock and rotated the rams after 19 days," he says.

"Ewe body condition scores were excellent and there was very little issues with ram lameness or other health issues.

"The only trend is black headed or Suffolk bred ewes have higher barren percentages".

The white faced ewes would have Belclare genetics of up to 50pc in some cases.

Michael put a ram in with the barren ewes after scanning and on January 24, approximately 50pc of these ewes had fresh raddle marks. He will cull any ewe not in lamb on March 1.

The scan data shows 93 ewes with triplets, 30.39pc of the flock. This compares with 51 in 2018, 17pc of the flock.

This is not such a major surprise given the ewe body condition at mating but it means that Michael will have to make significant preparation to cope with these triplet lambs.

"I will have to make sure that the automatic lamb feeder is well fired up when lambing starts this year."

Table 2 shows the 2019 scan results for the ewe lamb flock. They scanned at 1.41 which is a big increase on 1.05 in 2018.

The number of barren ewe lambs has decreased from 27pc (27 lambs) in 2018 to approximately 8pc (9 lambs) in 2019. The number of ewe lambs mated in 2018 was 113 compared to 100 mated in 2017. There are 53 ewe lambs scanned with twins. At present Michael plans not turn out any ewe with triplets or ewe lambs with twins. He will rear all these lambs artificially.

In a curious twist the 2018 scan data showed 27 barren ewe lambs (and six barren ewes) while the 2019 scan data showed 27 barren ewes (and nine barren ewe lambs).

Diet feeder

Michael purchased a second hand diet feeder in November 2018.

It is an Abbey 10 cubic metre model which cost £6000 sterling excluding VAT. The model purchased is a 'tub feeder,' has two side doors and a weight cell.

He is operating it with his MF 148 which cost him about €300 to add spool valves etc. This tractor is operating it successfully.

He had to construct a 600mm high ramp to enable him fill the diet feeder with his existing tractor and loader combination. He used some railway sleepers and gravel aggregate to construct the ramp.

He also had to make some modifications to the feed passage is his older sheep shed to accommodate the width of the diet feeder. Michael is very happy with his investment.

"Feeding is now less physically demanding, the ewes are always very settled, there is much less uneaten silage, I spend much less time in the yard on Sunday and it has allowed me finish earlier in the yard every evening".


While Michael grazed later than intended in 2018 due to store lamb purchases etc. the entire farm was closed by late November/early December.

Because of the mild winter and high soil temperature until mid-January the fields have a grass covers from 5cm to 6.5cm now.

Lambing is due to begin about a week earlier this year on March 10th.

Michael plans to follow what he done in recent years and apply about 30 units of Nitrogen in early-mid February (as one 50kg bag of 18.6.12 and bag of 46pcN Urea per acre). The exact date will depend on ground conditions, weather and soil temperature.


The ewe ration has 10pc Soya at present but this will be increased to 20pc Soya two weeks before lambing. His silage analysis is lower than expected with a DMD of 68.7.

This silage was closed on April 17, cut on May 30, and ensiled on June 1.

It has a DM of 21.6, CP of 14.3, pH of 4.20 and Ammonia of 3.1. The ewes are performing well on it so Michael will test another sample to see if the analysis result is any better.

They are currently being fed meal as follows: singles and doubles 0.19kg/day, the triplets 0.46kg./day and the ewe lambs are on 0.4kg./day. The ewes will be given a Fluke dose next week (Rafoxanide). This follows on from Closantel in the third week of November (and Triclabendazole in the first week of October).

Michael has about 950 purchased store lambs being fed indoors. These are performing well with lameness being the main issue.

2019 target is 650 lambs for sale

Michael Duffy farms at Kerrykeel on the Fanad Peninsula, 23 miles north of Letterkenny.

His operation consists of 419 ewes/ewe lambs mated and over 1000 store lambs purchased.

He has a target weaning percentage of 1.8 lambs per ewe and 1.0 lamb per ewe lamb mated.

His aim is to keep lamb mortality at less than 10oc and have 650 lambs for sale. He targets ewe body condition scores (BCS) from weaning with the aim of having a ewe BCS of 3.5 at mating and 3.0 at lambing.

In recent years, he feeds some meal from housing to prevent any loss of ewes BCS.

In November 2018 Michael invested in a second hand diet feeder so all the ewes are now fed consistent total mixed ration (TMR) of silage and meals.

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

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