Farm Ireland

Monday 23 October 2017

Ship shape in Donegal

Feeding and breeding management changes have paid strong dividends for Michael Duffy this year

Michael Duffy on his farm at Kerrykeel on the Fanad Peninsula.
Michael Duffy on his farm at Kerrykeel on the Fanad Peninsula.
Michael Duffy

John Cannon

Completing the lambing operation, getting the grass growing and preparing the flock to avail of the better weather throughout the summer has been the focus for sheep farmers over the last two months.

Michael Duffy's farm at Kerrykeel on the Fanad Peninsula, approximately 23kms north of Letterkenny, is no different. It's been a good spring for Michael with the changes he has implemented this year paying dividends.

"Things have gone much better for me this spring," said Michael. "At the minute I have a good grass supply, the silage crop is looking good and lambs seem to be thriving well. As a result I will probably increase my ewe numbers by 40 to the 2015 number of 400."

When asked why 2016 went better than 2015 he replied: "All the changes that I made worked well. The increased feeding from Christmas ensured that the ewes lambed down in better body condition. I had more ground rested from October/November, got nitrogen out in mid-March, delayed the lambing date and reduced ewe numbers by 10pc which left me with adequate grass at all times from ewe turnout."

This is a quite a contrast from 2015 and it is also a different picture from what the majority of farmers experienced this spring. Because of the poor weather in April and up until mid-May most farmers were scarce on grass until May 15.


Michael's silage was cut last Thursday, having been closed on April 21. "My main priority is to make top quality silage (75pc + DMD) - I am not too concerned about the yield," he said. "The weather last week was ideal for silage making and the sugar test on the fresh grass read 3pc. I went for a 48 hour wilt and the grass was left in the sward and not tedded.

"The wilt will increase the sugar percentage ensuring good preservation and reduce effluent produced. I have 15 acres closed and I will also cut four acres that was earmarked for grazing but I left it to grow out since May 13. I will also close a 3ac grazing field this week for cutting in mid-July. This will get 70 units N/acre and will be made as baled silage."

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Lambs were dosed for nematodirus in early May (white wormer) and also given a cobalt drench. The ewes were dosed for liver fluke and given a cobalt drench then too. "I will dose my lambs again in mid-June (moxidectin), give a cobalt drench and also give a clostridial vaccine," said Michael (below). "I also plan to faecal sample at least some of my lamb groups then too. I will give the follow up clostridial vaccine four weeks later in mid-July after weaning

Pet Lambs

Michael ended up with 60 pet lambs this year with 30 off milk replacer for the past two weeks and the remaining 30 will be taken off milk replacer around June 5. "I have not decided yet if I will continue the creep feeding indoors or out in a small paddock," said Michael.

Grassland Management

He has more than enough grass at present. He began weekly grass measurements on April 20 and at present he has about 13 grazing days ahead. The target for June should be about 10. In addition to closing off four acres for silage he has topped some paddocks down from 5.2cm to 4cm. Michael purchased 50 cull/grazing ewes about three weeks ago to act as a mop-up group for cleaning out paddocks after ewes and lambs to minimise topping. These ewes will be slaughtered in the next four to six weeks.

He has another three acre field with 8.9cm of grass that he will probably cut as hay or baled silage in mid-June. This will help reduce his days ahead by about one day.

"I should have been measuring grass some weeks earlier and been quicker to skip paddocks and cut them as I am finding it difficult to manage the surge in growth that has occurred since early May," said Michael.

"I will not do any reseeding this year as I have 50pc of the farm reseeded over the past six years. However I will put the money saved by not reseeding a field, (about €1000), into lime, phosphate and potash.

"I continued feeding my hogget ewes abut 0.2kg per day until recently. Their lambs were given about 0.2 kg of creep/day. I will wean those at a maximum of 12 weeks to given them adequate time to recover for mating."

2017 targets

As already stated, Michael plans to return to 390/400 ewes in 2017. He plans to begin lambing four to five days earlier than 2016 (the target is March 18/20) but as per 2016 he will delay mating half the flock for five days after the first half. "That change worked well this year and I did not have any more than 20 ewes lambing on any one day," said Michael.

* The next Sheep Tech reports will be from Tom Coll, Teagasc Leitrim. My next update on Michael Duffy's progress will be in September.

John Cannon is a Teagasc advisor based in Letterkenny.

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