Farm Ireland

Friday 15 December 2017

Synchronised lambing costs more but is worth every euro

Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

It's five weeks since ewes were mated at Lyons and the rams will be removed from the flock in the next 10 days. This will give a lambing season of approximately six weeks. Because the ewes were synchronised, 70-80pc of all lambs will be born within the first week.

This is a crucial aspect of our flock management as we require a compact lambing season to facilitate our research work. This year will see Frank Campion and Fiona McGovern continuing their PhD studies with the flock.

Frank will again focus on early lactation performance and Fiona's work will look at the relationship between ewe diet and lamb health.

Nineteen lambs were slaughtered from grass last week and returned €96/hd. This leaves us with 75 lambs remaining which are grazing forage rape for two weeks now. The forage rape has a pre-grazing herbage mass of 1,400kg DM/ha. We are strip-grazing it and targeting a utilisation rate of 80-85pc.

Forage rape has a high protein content, so cereal grain will be the only concentrate supplementation offered.

Grass growth last week was 22kg DM/ha/day which is acceptable for the time of year. The first paddocks for spring turnout have been closed at this stage even though autumn growth this year is ahead of average.


The focus is now turning to preparing for housing which will take place around Christmas time. This coincides with scanning and shearing.

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As we all know, sheep don't require housing, but it does aid the management in some instances, though it will increase the workload associated with feeding and bedding versus an outdoor system.

It works best where it is associated with high stocking rates and high litter size.

Group size will be approximately 45 ewes per pen, though on many smaller flocks a smaller group size would be more appropriate. Floor space requirements are 1.4-1.5 square metres on straw bedding or 1.1 square metres on slats.

In terms of feed space, you require 150-200mm feed space per ewe where ad lib silage is offered, increasing up to 450-600mm feed space per ewe for concentrate feeding.

Animal size obviously has a bearing on feed space required, with larger animals needing the higher end of this range.

Sponging or synchronisation is a key management tool on the Lyons flock, but does it have a role to play on the average sheep farm in Ireland?

If we look at the latest national figures on flock size, two thirds of all Irish sheep flocks contain less than 100 ewes, and many of these enterprises are run on a part-time basis or in combination with other enterprises.

Does it make sense to have ewes lambing over an eight to 10-week period in this context?


In my mind the answer is very simply no. Sponging results in three or four busy days lambing when the majority of the flock lamb down. In a part-time farming scenario I don't think there would be an appetite for a significantly longer lambing season.

There are obviously increased costs with sponging. You have the cost of the sponge (€1.60/ewe) and the cost of the PMSG (approx €3.00/ewe) to increase litter size. However, this drug may not be desirable in every case.

With indoor lambing, which I would recommend with a synchronisation programme, you will require one individual pen for every five ewes. There will also be an increased ram requirement of one ram to every 10 ewes at mating time.

There are significant benefits in terms of ease of management of the flock from mating right through until slaughter of the lambs. This largely arises from having the majority of the lambs of a uniform age. I believe it is worthy of consideration.

Now is a good time to evaluate the performance of your sheep flock. Teagasc profit monitors are a great tool in this regard, but the farmer also has to engage in a critical review of the enterprise.

How are things looking? Lamb sales are the major income source and land is the major limiting resource on most farms so lamb sales per hectare is an important metric.

How much lamb meat did you sell per ha dedicated to sheep on your farm? The national average is approximately 180kg carcass/ha.

Teagasc have set an ambitious target by 2020 of 468kg carcass/ha.

Where do you sit on this scale? Lamb sales of 180kg carcass/ha is equivalent to nine lambs at an average carcass of 20kg and while most farmers won't reach 468kg, significant improvement can be made above selling nine lambs per hectare.

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

Irish Independent