Vaccination is a cost effective way of reducing mortality rate

Lambing should be finished by May. Stock photo
Lambing should be finished by May. Stock photo
John Large

John Large

We should be finished lambing by May 1. About half the ewe-lambs have lambed now. They performed well; the singles lambed mostly themselves and had enough milk for their lamb. They were only housed the end of March, got good bale silage and 250 grams of meal since being housed.

The twins received 0.6kg of meal, fed twice daily. These produced good-sized lambs and have enough milk to rear them - with some needing a little help from a bottle for the first few days.

We let out the singles with their lambs after two days. The twins remain in at night for a week. With the weather good we let them out by day beside the shed and put them back in at night.

We are meal feeding all hoggets rearing twins. We also have a creep feeder with the lambs. When the lambs start to eat and are consuming 250 grams per day, we will stop feeding their mothers.

The ewes that lambed in early March have been joined into bigger groups with four lots of 100 ewes rearing twins. This way we have better control over grass management with bigger groups eating out fields quickly and moving onto the next field after three or four days. We will also grow more grass and can take out extra ground for silage.

This year we had enough grass at turnout to feed the ewes, with no need for any meal. This reduced the workload and we also saved on the meal bill.

Some fields that were closed since late October had very heavy covers of grass on them. We found these hard to graze out on the first grazing, but we have given them a second grazing now and they are grazed down well.

The second lot of fertiliser went out onto all paddocks grazed. On April 1 we put out one bag of Pasture Sward per acre. Next job with these ewe-lambs is to weight, dose the lambs and put all through the foot-bath as some lambs are getting scald. This job will be done by May 1.

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Now that lambing is coming to a finish, this is the time when we should look back and see what problems we had and see what we should do differently next year to improve our performance.

Our main problem this spring was ewes aborting lambs in the first week of lambing. These ewes are still on the farm; we will blood test them to see if we can find out why they aborted.

We also have some ewes that produced no lambs. These were scanned in-lamb so early embryonic death is the possible cause of them showing up now as barren. Some of these ewes will be blood tested also.

An analysis of when the lambs were lost shows that: 25pc were lost at lambing, 33pc were lost between tupping and scanning, 12pc after turnout, and 30pc to some form of abortion.

The losses to abortion is the group we should concentrate on. Firstly, if the percentage of abortions is over 2pc then it is likely to be due to an infectious cause and should be investigated by sending samples to the local veterinary laboratory, and possibly blood samples from the ewes.

The two main infections are Toxoplamosis and enzootic abortion. If either of these are the problem a vaccine is available that can be administered not later than three or four weeks before ram turnout.

More often than not, vaccines have been used in response to a major disease outbreak, rather than as a means of increasing lamb production. The cost of lowered productivity is so great that vaccination is a cost effective route to the control of these diseases.

A reduction in the abortion rate of 1pc will see the investment in vaccination pay for itself.

Most importantly, one vaccination should cover the ewe for her breeding life. So after the initial vaccine only replacement ewes have to be done in consecutive years.

Vaccination for me is cost effective, when you count the cost of feeding a ewe for six weeks before lambing and she then produces either dead or weak lambs, the cost of the vaccine is early paid for. The other reason why I vaccinate is the extra workload created by weak lambs at birth.

So if like me, with more than 2pc of your flock aborted or are barren having scanned in-lamb, now is the time to find out why.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Tipperary.

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