Farm Ireland

Monday 21 January 2019

VIDEO: UCD farm sees 300 ewes lambed in just nine days

The higher conception rates to first service and higher litter size as a result of the change in ewe type have resulted in a busier lambing period. Image: UCD
The higher conception rates to first service and higher litter size as a result of the change in ewe type have resulted in a busier lambing period. Image: UCD
John Courtney from Barnaderg, Tuam taking a break from the Laydigging at the Galway County Ploughing Championship. Photo: Hany Marzouk
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

The first round of lambing of the mid-season flock at Lyons is drawing to a close as I sit down to write this month's article.

The higher conception rates to first service and higher litter size as a result of the change in ewe type have resulted in a busier lambing period this year than in recent years. Three hundred ewes have been lambed in the space of nine days.

Our efforts this year were greatly aided as always by the second year Agriculture Science students who volunteered to assist with the lambing at Lyons.

We offer 24 hour supervision during the compact lambing period as data is collected on issues such as lambing difficulty, lamb behaviour and mothering ability. Stephen Lott and Michael Ronayne are in charge of the day shift and night shift respectively and coordinated the research and lambing activities of the flock.

While the lambing period is busy, having some help in the shed is great, not only from a labour perspective, but also to have some company and a bit of craic.

Video from 2015 shows main sheep event which occurs annually - lambing

We manage the lambing here so that it is intense but short. I realise this is not an option for all sheep farmers, and all farmers can't afford to employ additional staff, but perhaps we sometimes look at the staffing issue from the wrong perspective.

Can we afford to not have some additional help at this busy and often stressful period, which has a huge impact on subsequent flock performance and profitability? If an additional labour unit saves just one animal per shift during the busy period it will go a long way to cover the cost of that labour.

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The lambing shed also represents an incredible teaching opportunity for students from the University and beyond.

We had over 200 undergraduate students from Belfield in the shed learning about the risks associated with sheep handling and lambing as part of their Health and Safety modules.

Lyons Farm also hosted over 700 secondary school students from around the country as part of the Argi Aware Farm Walk and Talk programme.

Many of the students had never seen a ewe lambing, and some had never been on a farm before. It reminded me the great advantages that children have when they are raised on a farm.

Things that farm children take for granted such as watching a new lamb (or calf) being born, represent an amazing experience for children who don't have the opportunity to witness it on a day to day basis or indeed ever. Some of the questions asked are fantastic, and challenging to answer.

As ever this spring the weather conditions have a habit of bringing us back to reality with a bang.

The snow storms of recent weeks resulted in as much as half of the floor area of some sheep pens filling with snow. This meant ewes had to be removed from the shed and pens cleaned out four to five days before our peak lambing season.

We think this has had some negative effects on lamb mortality percentage. The first busy day of lambing of the mature sheep flock (March 9th) saw a number of ewes deliver, with a huge amount of assistance, litters of dead and decomposing lambs.

Lambs were sent to the School of Veterinary Medicine in UCD for post mortem, but we are still awaiting the results from this. Thankfully lamb mortality incidence has been reduced substantially since that day.

Normally at Lyons we turn the lambs out to grass at two to three days of age, but again weather conditions are dictating that grass growth is low (soil temp was below 5C on Thursday last), and field conditions are extremely wet.

We had almost two inches of rainfall in the 24 hours prior to my writing this article. This has resulted in lambs staying indoors for an extra four to five days.

Currently we are playing every sheep farmer's favourite game of 'finding space' in the shed.

Ewes remaining to lamb are being grouped together to free up group pens, and our individual pens are being dismantled also as almost 90pc of the flock have lambed at this stage to free up more space to group-house ewes and lambs.

To date, we have treated two lambs for symptoms of joint ill and a further five lambs for symptoms of watery mouth.

In all instances the lambs treated for watery mouth were small with birth weights of less than 3.5 kg and these lambs came from triplet and quad litters.

While some farms operate a blanket antibiotic treatment to control one or both of these conditions, this is not something we do at Lyons.

Indeed it is a completely inappropriate use of antibiotics and should be avoided through early consultation with vets to develop alternative control strategies.

The next few days will revolve around getting ewes and lambs out to grass to graze off the silage ground. These ewes will be initially turned out in groups of forty to fifty per paddock, before being grouped together to form the main grazing group and moving to the higher ground at Lyons.

Lambs will be weighted at five weeks of age to determine growth rate, and also to serve as an indicator of milk production, as growth rate to five weeks is mainly driven by ewe milk yield in addition to genetic potential for growth.

Assoc. Prof. Tommy Boland lectures in Sheep Production, at Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. @Pallastb email:

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