Tommy Boland: Forage analysis essential when planning flock winter feeding programmes

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Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

With silage making only recently completed on many farms it feels a bit weird to be discussing silage quality as we plan our winter feeding programmes at Lyons.

It still strikes me as odd that many farmers don't test silage/forage quality.

Granted there are issues with variation when dealing with bales, but some indication of the quality of feed on offer is very beneficial in planning winter feeding programmes.

We have some of the analysis back for first and second cut silage at Lyons. Quality is very good with crude protein contents ranging from 14.2pc to 17.4pc and metabolisable energy values of 10.7 to 11.2 Megajoules of metabolisable energy.

This reflects a programme of improving silage quality on the farm over the past five years. The battle now commences to see who will get access to the best quality silage for the winter feeding programme.

In the absence of conducting a forage analysis, people tend to over-estimate the quality of forage on offer.

This in turn can lead to underfeeding in late pregnancy, setting the ewe and lamb up for a difficult season.

The redstart had a pre-grazing yield of 4.1 tonnes of dry matter per ha with a dry matter content of 12.5pc. This crop was established on July 24 following the harvest of whole crop wheat silage.

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This crop will add badly need feed for finishing lambs with grass growth rate dropping to 25 kg of dry matter per ha per day, last week.

One hundred and seventy lambs were turned onto the redstart with an average live weight of 39kg. At current lamb growth rates one would expect these lambs to reach target slaughter weight in approximately four weeks.

We have received a number of queries in relation to redstart for lambs, with its usage much more common around the country this year.

This particular crop suits the system in Lyons where we have tillage ground also, and while we recognise it is not an option for every farmer, it has a role to play in certain situations.

Last week saw 90 lambs slaughtered. This followed on from 44 lambs the previous week that were selected at an average weight of 46kg, achieved an average carcass weight of 21.7kg and returned €102.

Lambs grazing the redstart are achieving an average daily live weight gain of 270 grams.

Ewes were sponged on October 1 and rams will be joined on October 15. This year we will mate all ewes and ewe lambs on the same day.


In previous years we have mated the ewe lambs two days earlier than the ewes with a view to having ewe lambs lambed prior to the ewes starting to lamb.

This year as we have only 55 ewe lambs out of a total flock of 360, we decided to mate all animals on the same day to shorten the period of time we offer 24 hour supervision.

Ewes were shorn on September 6 this year. All ewes will have their live weight and body condition score recorded at mating.

Jonathan Higgins has also joined the sheep research team at Lyons as a PhD student funded by the Irish Research Council.

Jonathan's PhD will look at maximising the contribution of forages to the diet in mid-season lambing systems, in addition to comparing the performance of the three maternal strains in the Lyons flock.

Associate Professor Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production at Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. email: Twitter: @Pallastb

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