Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Straight back to business for fourth-year students

Dr Tommy Boland

The current batch of Agricultural Science students returned to UCD on Monday, September 9, just a week after their predecessors graduated. Graduation day is a great day for students and staff alike.

It is a particularly memorable and important event for the families of the students, whose support (in every sense of the word) is crucial to getting the students to graduation.

For the families, there is also some light at the end of the tunnel.

With the graduates heading off into employment, the possibility of getting loans paid back enters the realm of reality.

This year saw 240 new graduates commence their BAgrSc degrees in UCD.

For the returning fourth-year students it was straight back to business with a trip to Lyons farm for some study on the first day of term.

This includes a briefing for them on the sheep production enterprise.

Things really begin to get busy for us in September, not only with the return of the students, but also with the arrival of rams for the Central Progeny Testing programme (co-ordinated by Sheep Ireland).

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The collection of data from last year's experiments is being completed, while the preparation for this year's experiments is underway, and on top of all that we have 460 animals being prepared for mating on October 14. We have been monitoring body condition score of the ewes since early August. At the beginning of September, the flock average was 2.9 BCS. Ewes will be assessed again this week, though from checking a small sub-group things appear to be progressing well.

Ewe lambs will not be artificially inseminated this year, but will be bred to the stock rams on the farm instead.


All mature ewes will be mated, following synchronisation, using laproscopic AI. We use a 12-day sponging procedure, with pregnant mare serum gonadotrophin (PMSG) administered on sponge withdrawal and mating occurring 36 hours later.

Great care needs to be taken by anybody using this system that the PMSG is administered accurately, as an overdose can greatly increase the birth of large multiple litters.

The ewes will then get two repeat services with the ram. These rams will be raddled (with different colours for each service) to not only record which ewes repeat, but also to indicate the time of lambing. I think this simple and cheap technique is incredibly useful and even more so in flocks which are not synchronised.

Frequently changing the colour of the raddle from light to dark will allow farmers to estimate lambing date with a good degree of accuracy.

More importantly, it allows farmers to plan the concentrate feeding programme accordingly, leading to cost savings during the expensive pre-lambing feeding period.

The average weight of the remaining lambs on the farm is 42kg and these are growing at 180g/day in the absence of concentrate feeding, which is a good level of performance at this stage of the year.

Our last trip to the factory was on September 12, when 68 lambs with an average live weight of 45.2kg were slaughtered. The average carcass weight was 20.34kg, giving a kill-out percentage of approximately 45pc.

Once again forage rape was planted following the harvest of a winter barley crop with sowing conditions much improved on the previous two years.

Compaction was a major issue with this crop in the recent past at Lyons so this year the tram lines and headlands were sub-soiled and the entire field received a pass of the grubber to disrupt any compaction there might have been.

Again, the field was seeded with the slug pelleter and rolled in. Two bags of CAN were also applied. The aim here is to carry the ewes through December on this crop prior to housing.

Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production and ruminant nutrition at UCD's research farm at Lyons, Newcastle, Co Dublin

Irish Independent