For the last three years, I have been reporting on the ups and downs of Michael Duffy's sheep farm at Kerrykeel on the Fanad Peninsula, 23 miles north of Letterkenny in Donegal.
The scanning results for the flock mated in 2016 are displayed in Tables 1 and 2 (right). The results for the ewe flock are not as good as in 2016 or recent years. Nevertheless, they are still very good scan rates by national flock standards and should deliver a weaning rate of 1.61 lambs per ewe.
Michael attributes the drop in scanning results to two factors: the very wet weather in September and a slight drop in body condition. I am inclined to agree with him.
We only had two dry days in September 2016. It was the wettest month of the year. This had a major effect on grass dry matter, grass utilisation and animal performance.
Teagasc research shows that a good scan rate or litter size is linked to good body condition scores (BCS) at mating. The target BCS at mating is 3.5. Michael also says his scanner pointed out that more of his ewes seem to be in lamb from the second heat cycle than from the first 17 days of mating. Again, this could be related to the wet September pre-mating.
Following scanning, Michael examined the scanning rate of the 10 thinnest ewes that he selected for extra feeding in mid-December and it was 1.6. His 16 'next thinnest group' at that time had a scanning rate of 1.7, while the remainder of his flock (excluding the 26 above) scanned 1.87. This demonstrates a correlation between BCS and scanning rate.
Table 2 shows the scan results for the ewe lamb flock. They scanned at 1.06, which was similar to the 1.05 in 2016. However, Michael pointed out: "I have too many barren ewe lambs this year and I am putting this down to the wet September in 2016 too."
"I dosed with Closantel for Liver Fluke six weeks after housing and I noticed that my pen floors were much cleaner following dosing," said Michael. "Those ewes were all on meal of some level at that time. I am happy with ewe body condition scores at present. In mid-February, my thin ewes were on 1.5lb/day, triplets were on 1.0lb/day and the rest were on 0.5 lb/day. This is the 13pc CP hogget finishing ration.
"My ewe lambs were on 1.5lb/day of an 18pc CP ration (extra soya added to the 13pc CP ration). For the last four weeks, I was feeding a 20pc CP ration which has 22pc Soyabean."
Purchased store lambs
Michael currently has 350 store lambs on hand, but he is disappointed with the present price.
"The lambs already slaughtered left no margin for my time and effort. The mild weather this winter has caused more pneumonia issues, which is pushing mortality up slightly.
"On a positive note, the lambs are performing well and current killing out is 48pc. Maybe the price will continue to improve in the coming days and weeks ahead."
John Cannon is a Teagasc business and technology advisor based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal.
The response to closing off fields in October and November 2016 is shown in Table 3. This shows the grass heights on the Ballymagowan farm as measured by Michael on February 13 using a plate-meter and compares them to a similar measurement taken on January 14 last year.
Last week (March 14), the covers on these fields range from 6.9cm down to 5.0cm, with fields closed before mid-November having reasonable covers. Michael's flock began lambing on March 15, but the harsh weather has prevented any lambs being turned out to grass to date.
The closing-off pattern is based on the targets laid out by Philip Creighton, Teagasc Athenry, in order to have an adequate grass cover for a mid-March lambing flock. Ewes should be turned out to a minimum grass height of 6.5cm post lambing to avoid having to feed sheep nuts on grass.
Michael availed of the weather and good ground conditions and spread about 30 units of nitrogen per acre on February 14 (one 50kg bag of 18.6.12 and a bag of 46pc N Urea per acre). He is using 18.6.12 as his main fertiliser again in 2017 to try and get soil P up to Index 3.
"I took 15 soil samples in late January and will use the analysis results to decide what fertiliser I apply for the remainder of 2017," said Michael.
He updated his fields on Teagasc PastureBase with a view to walk the farm on a weekly basis in 2017 and measure the grass covers in order to improve his grassland management and lamb performance.