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Friday 14 December 2018

With mating, grazing seasons over, it's time to take stock

 

This flock of sheep in Ballyellen Co Kilkenny has just been moved to a new grazing strip of fodder rape and volunteer corn. Photo Roger Jones.
This flock of sheep in Ballyellen Co Kilkenny has just been moved to a new grazing strip of fodder rape and volunteer corn. Photo Roger Jones.
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

The recent cold weather has sent grass growth down to single-digit figures on the sheep platform at Lyons Farm in UCD, and the focus on the farm is now on finalising the 2018 grazing season. Ewes will finish grazing on December 10 and will then move on to redstart.

The ewes are currently finishing grazing the back of the hill at Lyons, which will be fully closed this week. They will then move to the front of the hill. We began sequentially closing the farm in mid-October. This is essential to have sufficient grass available at turnout in springtime, and even more so at Lyons as we have a synchronised lambing flock.

The mating season for 2018 was also brought to a close last week, when rams were removed from the ewes following two repeat cycles. The flock will be scanned on December 27 and at that stage we can assign ewes to our various late pregnancy feeding programmes.

The rams are currently indoors receiving some 'TLC' after the mating season but will be turned out again shortly. Ewes were also foot-bathed in a 10pc zinc sulphate solution last week and three ewes received antibiotics for foot-rot. This was recorded and if these animals have another incidence of lameness in the next 12 months then they will be culled from the flock.

Whereas the ewes are cleaning up the farm to set it up for spring grazing, the ewe lambs are being managed as a separate group. The ewe lambs are the future of the flock, and an expensive investment.

While debate continues in the industry as to the merits or otherwise of breeding ewe lambs, it is a central part of our flock management at Lyons. It is crucial, however, that once the ewe lambs are selected for mating, they need to be managed as a separate group.

Unlike the ewe, the ewe lamb and in some cases, hoggets, need to continue to grow during pregnancy. This requires additional feed, and in our case the ewes are grazing reseeded swards with a pre-grazing herbage mass of 1200kg DM/ha. We will monitor growth of these animals at monthly intervals to ensure they are progressing as we want.

There are 28 lambs remaining from the 2018 crop. These lambs are currently grazing redstart.

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Last week saw 12 lambs slaughtered at an average live weight of 46kgs. These lambs killed out with an average carcase weight of over 22kgs and a sale price of €106. These kill-outs are very good for lambs of this age, and at this time of year, but we recurrently see high kill-out rates on brassica crops.

It is important to say that where lambs are grazing crops like redstart, on farms where the crop has not been grown before, we need to be careful not to let lambs get too heavy.

I saw well fleshed lambs with live weight of 55kg selling for €105 in the mart. This is 10kg of expensive gain that is not being rewarded. Work from Teagasc Athenry shows that it takes approximately 31kg of DM to produce 1kg of lamb meat (when we divide all the feed consumed on a farm by the total amount of meat sold from the farm).

When grassland management is good, 30 of this 31kg can come from grazed grass (26kg) and grass silage (4kg), with less than 1kg coming from concentrate DM. If flock prolificacy is increased from 1.5 to 1.7 lambs weaned, then there is a 13pc feed saving.

Things will quieten down somewhat now with the sheep flock, though preparations for housing will continue, with some remedial work to the internal gates in the sheep shed required. We will also continue preparation for the late pregnancy feeding studies which will commence in early January.

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

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