Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Sheep advice: Laying the foundations for 2017 grass

This grass is of more value in the spring time and we need to be cognisant of slow onset of grass growth in the spring also.
This grass is of more value in the spring time and we need to be cognisant of slow onset of grass growth in the spring also.
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

The notable drop in temperature and the shortening day length is taking its toll on grass growth at Lyons Research Farm, with daily grass growth reduced by more than 50pc since my last article.

It was running at 20kg DM per ha per day at the time of writing. Paddocks are being closed in rotation now as they are grazed out to 4cm-4.25cm. The first paddocks closed are showing good regrowth, but the temptation to regraze these must be avoided.

This grass is of more value in the spring time and we need to be cognisant of slow onset of grass growth in the spring also.

The majority of grass available for spring turnout is grown prior to December 1. We will need an average farm cover for turnout in mid-March of 820 kg DM per ha. With moderate spring growth on this site, we are looking at a closing farm cover of approximately 580kg DM per ha.

An extra complicating factor in our management is the synchronised lambing pattern we employ. This means 80pc-85pc of the ewes will lamb within a seven to 10 day period in March, so grass demand is switched on rapidly in spring. We do not want to be short of grass in such a scenario.

In the last few years, many farmers are also reporting ewes lambing in a very compact pattern, largely due to the better condition score when going to the ram, which in turn is reflecting better grass supply in the pre-mating period.

For these farmers, this also means there is a rapid onset of grass demand in spring time.

Lambs were drafted last Wednesday and 27 were sent to the factory on Friday. This leaves us with 73 lambs to be finished or just over 10pc of the lamb flock.

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The non-trial lambs are grazing redstart (a kale/rape hybrid). The first section grazed was closed up on September 27 and the very good growing conditions have allowed for an excellent regrowth on this section of the crop.

Where such a crop (and there are other options available) fits into the system, it seems to have good potential to offer a high quality feed supply at this time of the year.

Ewes were mated on October 17 using laproscopic AI and the ewe lambs were mated the previous Friday using natural service following a synchronised heat.

We were concerned about the ewe lambs following a dog attack which saw 11 animals killed three weeks before mating, but they seem to have settled well and the raddling marks do not indicate any difference in oestrous compared to other years, so we are now somewhat more hopeful of a good mating outcome for this group.

Rams are turned out to both groups 14 days after initial mating and the ewes will get two repeat cycles, while the ewe lambs will get just one.

The reason for this is to give the ewe lambs a better chance of reaching their target weights and body condition score for their second year mating.

Aside from drafting the remaining lambs and putting the rams in, things are quietening down at the moment in terms of the animal management.

During the first month of pregnancy, we try to minimise the handling of the flock to allow the best chance of embryo implantation and a successful pregnancy.

Attention is now turning to preparing for housing and drawing up our winter feeding programmes. Silage test results are back and, broadly, we are happy with the results.

For the first cut, DM ranged 25pc-31 pc, DMD 72pc-77pc, CP 12.4pc-13.3pc and ME from 11.3 to 11.9 MJ per kg DM.

The most important consideration for ewe nutrition during late pregnancy is energy supply and intake, and we will be fighting hard with the winter milking herd for the high ME silage. Protein supply and intake is also important but only becomes a real concern in the final three weeks of pregnancy, so energy is the first thing we will focus on.

Second and third cut silages are a little lower in their nutritive values compared to the first cut silages, but are still good with CP content as high as 15pc in some instances.

This reflects the huge efforts made by the farm in improving silage quality in recent years. Silage is a key feed on most Irish farms and an expensive feed to make, so management should be correct to maximise the quality of this resource.

Tommy Boland is a Lecturer in Sheep Production, Lyons Research Farm, UCD.

My week ahead

In two weeks' time, mating will take place with laproscopic AI used for the ewes and rams to mate the synchronised ewe lambs. Paddocks will start to be closed for spring grazing and we will be looking into some feed barrier and penning refurbishment works in our main sheep shed.

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