Tackling prolapse rate, joint ill and watery mouth is next year's focus

The benefits of grazing cattle and sheep together cannot be exaggerated.
The benefits of grazing cattle and sheep together cannot be exaggerated.
John Fagan

John Fagan

This time of year on the farm is generally a quiet time. Lambing is over and all my ewes have been dosed, dagged and foot bathed and all lambs have received their first dose of the year.

Lambing went okay, with a lambing rate of 1.6 lambs per ewe by the end. If I'm honest, I have to admit that I'm quite disappointed considering the amount of effort that I put into having everything right.

I had the usual number of abortions, but I had a lot more prolapses than normal. I am putting this down to the ewes being in good condition from 2013 and subsequently ending up being a bit over-fed prior to lambing.

Then I lost a lot of lambs with joint ill and watery mouth. At least I got to the bottom of this problem by treating every lamb with bimoxyl LA, as prescribed by my vet, and by fully bathing the newborn lambs' navels with iodine.

I will also have to increase the amount of lime I am using when bedding down the sheds. The challenge for next year is not to have anymore cases of either problem. I believe it is important as farmers that we talk about these issues in a constructive way to help others eliminate similar problems.

It is noteworthy that the ewes that lambed outdoors with the minimum amount of attention achieved a lambing rate of up to 1.75 lamb/ewe indicating that infection picked up in the shed was the prime killer of my lambs.

I headed along to my second STAP meeting of the year a few weeks ago. I find that these few hours chatting with other farmers is really helpful. The topics varied from grassland management and measurement to soil fertility and lamb thrive post-lambing.


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Every time I go to one of these talks I find that I pick up something new. It's a real shame that more funding has not been made available so more farmers can get involved. As I understand it, the scheme has been closed to any new entrants for 2014.

Grass on my own farm is growing really well. I don't measure grass, having always dismissed it as something that only dairy farmers needed to do. But as time moves on, I am increasingly beginning to see the merits of it. You don't have to run out with a triangle or plate-meter to every single field, but as a general rule a grazing height of 4-6cm (roughly the top of boot or mobile phone on its side) is the ideal height for ewes grazing with lambs.

Sward heights lower than this force the ewe to feed her lambs off her back, which will only lead to a supplementation requirement. In some fields the grass that is getting too far ahead of my sheep will be closed up for haylage.

Also at our meeting we touched on soil fertility and it made me go back to check the pH results from the soil tests I did a few years ago.

Most fields were at pH6-6.5, which is fine, but I'll be keeping an eye on it as the performance of fertiliser, particularly phosphorous, is affected seriously by the pH in the soil. It's something that I would have often taken for granted and forgot about, but I am beginning to realise that they are hugely important if I want to reduce my feeding costs.

My own lambs are thriving well, and I'll be watching them closely to draft as many as possible off the ewe before weaning. I will hold off from giving them a dose of Clik until I get as many as possible away.

I let out all my weanling heifers to grass last week and, boy, is it good to finally clear the sheds again.

The benefits of grazing cattle and sheep together cannot be exaggerated. They reduce the worm burden in the sward for each other and I also find that there is less grass wastage and less need for topping if you manage it right. The only sticking point is the profitability of buying store heifers to feed over the winter. It's an expensive game and I'm wondering if there might be an option to link up with a dairy farmer instead. Presumably, he will have a requirement for summer grass. It could be a more profitable way to utilise my grass output this way and reduce the risk associated with buying in cattle.

Despite the disappointments, there are certainly a lot more things to be happy about by comparison to last year, even if there is room for improvement. I took the bank holiday weekend off and headed for the Ring of Kerry.

I reckon it's the best way to prepare myself for the workload ahead as the silage and haymaking season approaches.

  • John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath. Email: jfagan@independent.ie

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