Tommy Boland: Scanning results in UCD farm indicate a bumper crop of triplets

File photo
File photo
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

The remaining 15 lambs (2pc of all lambs born) from the 2018 lambing season were sold on December 19.

It is policy at Lyons Farm, not to carry lambs into the new year and even though some of these lambs were well below the cut-off weight, they still returned an average sale price of just over €99. These lambs had an average kill out percentage of 47.5pc off redstart.

Ewes are currently grazing redstart having been scanned on December 27. The first group of 90 were housed yesterday (January 7) to facilitate a late pregnancy feeding trial, but the remainder will remain outdoors for another few weeks.

This year, we have moved away from mid-pregnancy shearing to allow us to keep ewes out later over winter, reducing the labour associated with feeding.

During my recent trip to New Zealand, I noted a lot of very late (by Irish standards) pregnancy shearing taking place, four to five weeks pre-lambing, and obviously no housing was taking place.

The motivation for this practice is to increase lamb vigour, and there did not seem to be issues with the ewes subsequently.

However, our recent experience at Lyons would suggest that even eight or nine weeks' wool regrowth might not be sufficient, depending on prevailing weather at the time of turnout.

The weather in the regions where I witnessed this late pregnancy shearing was a lot more benign than in many parts of Ireland during February and March.

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I think this highlights the importance of not just blindly adopting a practice from different regions of the world, without fully understanding them in the first instance.

Scanning results

The scanning results were quite good, though I suspect some readers may be of the opinion that there are too many triplets in the flock this year. Overall, ewe lambs have a scanned litter size of 1.43 per ewe lamb joined. Fifteen per cent of ewe lambs did not conceive over a 24-day breeding period, while 11pc of ewe lambs joined have scanned with triplets (six ewe lambs in total).

The hoggets within the flock have a scanned litter size of 2.04 per ewe joined.

Four per cent of the hoggets are empty after a 35-day breeding season- with 14pc, 55pc and 26pc with singles, twins and triplets respectively.

The mature ewes within the flock have a scanned litter size of 2.22 per ewe joined. Five per cent were empty after a 35-day breeding season, with 12pc, 42pc and 40pc of singles, twins and triplets respectively.

All animals at Lyons are recorded using the Kingswood Sheep software package, and this makes analysing flock performance reasonably straightforward.

Our experience suggests there is a considerable workload in getting the set-up correct, but once this is achieved, there are significant gains to be made from utilising the data to monitor flock and individual animal performance.

The genetics within the flock at Lyons are of the high prolificacy variety and many farmers would not favour such high litter sizes.

The major concern for many is how to deal with triplets?

Farms with high numbers of triplets routinely have a plan in place to deal with them and they do not present a major burden.

It is where numbers are small and there is no plan in place, or in a particular year where numbers are higher than normal, that issues arise. Good birth-weights, low mortality figures and acceptable lamb growth rates are all achievable with appropriate management and planning. This is something I will cover in more detail in the coming months.

The breeding season at Lyons is also shorter than most other midseason lambing flocks. This, I think, is responsible for our higher than targeted barren rate of 4.5pc (we would target 2pc).

I am confident we could reduce this percentage if we extended the breeding season, but at the moment this is not part of our plans at Lyons. This short breeding season is also facilitated by using synchronised mating.

Associate Professor Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production at Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. Email: tommy.boland@ucd.ie Twitter: @Pallastb

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