Farm Ireland

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Synchronised lambing season ensures we have no labour issues

Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Peter Hynes cut a dash in pink for St Valentine's Day and raised almost €3,600 for the charity Embrace. He is pictured with his wife Paula and daughters Chloe, Beckie and Georgie and new arrivals on the farm.
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

Three weeks from today we will be in the middle of our busiest week of lambing at Lyons farm.

This year I expect things will be a little more hectic than recent years.

We have a large percentage of animals in the flock lambing for the first time, either as hoggets or ewe lambs. This results from the recent change in breed structure within the flock.

Additionally we have conception rates to the synchronised oestrus of 90pc and 70 pc respectively in the ewe and ewe lamb flocks, which puts extra pressure on the system for a few days.

We are in the lucky situation in Lyons of not having any labour issues.

We have dozens of students every year who volunteer to assist with the lambing work.

There are many reasons why we opt for synchronised breeding. One of the main ones is to condense as much of the lambing activity as possible into the first week of mid-term for the undergraduate students from Belfield.

This gives the students a lot of exposure over a compact period of time, and allows us a plentiful supply of labour.

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All animals in the flock are now enrolled in a dual abortion vaccination program for toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion.

They also all received booster treatments as part of the clostridia vaccination programme two weeks ago.

Silage quality is good at Lyons again this year, and the ewes are on 72 DMD silage.

The single-bearing ewes were on restricted forage intake until recently, but as we are depending on these ewes taking a foster lamb we will introduce 150g soya bean meal per day to their diet for the final two weeks of pregnancy.

The twin bearing ewes moved on to 500g of concentrates per day this week, the triplets are on 750g, plus one pen of thin twins and the quads are receiving 1.1kg.

The ewe lambs are moving to 500g per day for the singles and 750g per day for the twins.

We are aiming to prevent the ewes from mobilising any of their body reserves during the last two months of pregnancy.

Having the ewes shorn does make visual observation a little easier, but this is no substitute for actually handling the animals.

Having ewes at the minimum body condition score of 3 at lambing time allows for high lamb growth rates to be achieved at turn out to pasture.

Once our ewes are turned out to pasture, we do not offer supplementary concentrates. The ewes are expected to produce milk from an all grass diet.

Recent work at UCD shows that ewes which have inadequate energy intake during late pregnancy - resulting in a lower body condition score at lambing - support lamb growth rates which are 50g per day lower than ewes which had the correct energy intake and higher body condition during late pregnancy.

A second challenge to ewes on an all grass diet during early lactation is the impact of rainfall or low grass dry matter content.

It is common for grass dry matter content to be low in March and April as rainfall can be heavy.

Previous work at Lyons clearly shows that when grass dry matter content falls, so too does grass dry matter intake.

In this situation it is essential that the ewe has adequate body reserves to make up for the loss of energy intake when the grass dry matter content is low.

The focus between now and lambing will switch to preparation of the lambing shed, construction of the lambing pens and assembly of the lambing kit, which I discussed last week.

We are also drawing up the protocols for the lambing students and printing signs for display in the lambing shed highlighting the key points and processes.

The week of lambing will also see approximately 750 secondary school students visit the farm and lambing shed as part of the Agri Aware farm walk and talk programme.

Assoc Prof Tommy Boland lectures in sheep production at Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. @Pallastb

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