Tommy Boland: Wool prices barely covering the cost of shearing
Last week was a busy week for the sheep flock at Lyons. Lambs were weaned, worm-drenched and received a cobalt supplement. Ewes were shorn and the triplet study continues with lambs grazing Redstart, and testing fences after weaning.
Except for 150 triplet lambs which were weaned at 12 weeks of age, the remainder of the lamb crop were weaned last week at 14 weeks of age.
These lambs averaged just over 30kg at weaning, which we are reasonably happy with, considering ewes were turned out with an average suckling litter size of 1.95. The ewes themselves were in good condition, with average BCS of 2.9. This reflects the overall good conditions we have had during this spring/early summer at Lyons.
In a change from traditional practice at Lyons farm, we have moved to summer shearing, (previously ewes were shorn during winter housing) in order to extend our grazing season into January.
The ewes would certainly have appreciated their fleece removal last Tuesday, which incidentally was the day where our solar panels yielded their highest ever energy production.
Unfortunately, the value of the wool is extremely low this year and will scarcely cover the shearing costs.
In a climate and society, where there is so much discussion about renewable and sustainable products and even a circular economy, the reduction in the value of wool is a puzzle to me. In terms of a natural fibre, it is hard to think of a better one.
Lambs were drenched with a clear drench at weaning as there was an average faecal egg count in the lambs of 500 eggs per gram. This drench was from the macrocyclic lactone family (clear drench). Lambs also received a cobalt drench at weaning time.
This year we turned 51 ewes out to pasture with three lambs at foot. Of this total of 153 lambs we weaned; 150 lambs on June 3 at 12 weeks of age. One lamb died at two weeks of age, and a further two were taken indoors around the same time and subsequently reared on artificial milk replacer.
We were very happy with this return. These lambs had an average weaning weight of 27kg, or to express it another way, each ewe weaned approximately 80kg of lamb.
Considering ewes were on average 78kg at mating, this is an impressive performance. This performance was not achieved from grass only. Ewes and lambs remained indoors for approximately 10 days after lambing during which time they were offered grass silage ad libitum, plus 1.5kg of concentrates per day. After turnout they received 1.0kg of concentrates per day for a week.
Peak milk production had passed at the end of that week so there was no point in continuing to feed such a high level of concentrates per day so feeding levels were stepped back to 750g per day for a further week, and subsequently reduced to 500g per day until six weeks after lambing, at which point meals were removed from the ewes' diet.
Creep feed was introduced to the lambs at approximately two weeks of age, but intakes remained low, until around six weeks of age, when it reached 250g per day. Intakes of creep continued to be relatively low, and by weaning lambs were eating approximately 500g per day.
After weaning lambs were split into two groups, one group was turned out to grass, and the second group was turned out to Redstart, which was sown in mid-April. Concentrate supplementation continued at 300g per day for 10 days after weaning. For the lambs that were turned onto Redstart, a small number of ewes remained with this group of lambs, perhaps unnecessarily, to minimise any issues around a lack of familiarity with the new crop.
However, just through observation, it did not appear that there were any issues. No source of long fibre was offered.
In around three weeks' time, we will go through the entire ewe flock and check teats and udders and identify ewes for culling. Lambs will also be monitored routinely for parasite burden using faecal egg counts, and we will start to look at sourcing replacement ewe lambs and hoggets for the flock.
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