Teagasc - sheep tech: No more lame excuses

Sean Conway is aiming to reduce lameness rates to 3pc in his flock which begins lambing this week

The ewe with prolapse was tied with a 12 mm harness which eliminates the need to stitch the ewe
The ewe with prolapse was tied with a 12 mm harness which eliminates the need to stitch the ewe
The rope used for the harness for the ewe
The harness allows the ewe to move without the need to remove the rope

Tom Coll

Sean Conway farms at Coondrihara, Lavagh, Ballymote, at the foot of Knocknashee, with his wife Angeline, three sons David, Alan, Fergal and daughter Aine. The holding is of heavy soil type by nature and this was one of the reasons why Sean changed his farming enterprise 11 years ago from dairying to drystock and sheep.

The farm size is 50ha which is currently stocked with 35pc of the land area for cattle and 65pc for sheep. In total, 162 mature ewes and 40 ewe lambs went to the ram in 2014. Rams were introduced to the mature ewes on October 10 and to ewe lambs on October 20.

Lambing takes place mostly outdoors on the Conway farm and in order to compact the lambing spread all rams were removed from the ewes and ewe lambs on November 29. The ram effect was used prior to mating, with Charollais and Texel used as terminal sires, and Belclare rams used to breed replacements.

Ewes are mainly Suffolk, Texel and Belclare crosses and scanned at 1.80 lambs to the ewe, with the ewe lambs, all Belclare crosses, scanning at 1.13 lambs per ewe put to the ram. There hasn't been any losses to date since scanning and lambing is due to commence this week. Details of scanning results are shown in Table 1.

Ewes are separated into groups one week prior to the commencement of lambing. Single and triplet-bearing ewes are housed to facilitate fostering. Twin bearing ewes are placed in three groups according to raddle marks.

Raddle colour was changed every seven days at tipping time, 64 ewes are marked yellow and will lamb in the first week, 27 ewes are marked green and will lamb in the first two weeks, with the remaining twin-bearing ewes marked orange, the majority of which will lamb by the end of the third week.

The batch that are nearest to lambing are housed in the evening to facilitate night time lambing and are let out at 6.00am to paddocks near the shed with grass covers over 6cm. Ewes with lambs are then turned out to paddocks with covers over 6cm that had been closed since the October 20. In all 20 units of urea per acre was spread on February 20. In previous years where grass supply was adequate post lambing no concentrate was fed to ewes. However, if ewes have to graze below 4cm concentrates will be introduced.

Sean's aim is to feed ewes to match their energy and protein requirements pre and post lambing. Triplet- and twin-bearing ewes are currently getting 0.8kgs of a 19pc crude protein ration containing barley, soya bean, soya hulls, rapeseed, maize, molasses and minerals. Single-bearing ewes are currently on 0.4kgs of the same ration. The ewes also have access to 78DMD silage, with a protein of 12.1pc. Ensuring adequate grass supply post lambing will not only reduce the concentrate bill but will enable ewes to reach peak milk yield which occurs at around three and five weeks post lambing for ewes. Twin rearing ewes yield around 40pc more milk than ewes rearing singles. Underfeeding the ewe at this critical stage will reduce her overall milk yield and result in poor lamb growth rates.

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Based on previous years, the average weight for single and twin born lambs on the Conway farm was 5.7kgs and 5.1kgs respectively, which is in line with the Teagasc targets for optimum birth weight of single and twin born lambs.

Each extra kg at birth will result in a threefold increase at weaning. Lambs that are 0.5kgs heavier at birth will be 1.5kgs heavier at weaning than their flock comrades. Sean aims to have all lambs sold by late September as in previous years,. All ram lambs are left entire as castrates will be on average 2kgs lighter at weaning than those left entire.

Flock problems to date were mainly due to three ewes going on their backs and one ewe prolapsing. This ewe was tied with a 12mm rope harness (as per photos) which eliminates the need to stitch the ewe and allows the ewe to lamb without the need to remove the rope.

In 2012 Sean's flock was involved in lameness study carried out by the School of Veterinary Medicine, UCD and Teagasc where all sheep on the farm were assessed for lameness and the causes identified by final year veterinary student Fergus Hannon. The results of the study showed the incidence of lameness on the Conway farm to be 9pc of all sheep presented. This was slightly below the average incidence of 10pc for the 20 farms assessed.

The main causes of lameness on Sean's farm were scald accounting for 40pc, footrot 32pc and shelly hoof 23pc of lame sheep.

In 2013 Sean built a batch footbath in which all sheep stand in a 10pc zinc sulphate or copper sulphate solution for at least three minutes before standing for one hour on a concrete yard. Ewes and lambs are footbathed each time they are gathered.

Ewes that are lame outdoors are caught at the feed trough and injected with oxytetracycline and those that do not respond to treatment are marked for culling. Sean's aim is to keep lameness to a minimum with less than 3pc lame sheep in the entire flock on any given day. According to Sean lame ewes are normally thinner, with lighter lambs at weaning.

Tom Coll is a Teagasc drystock business and technology adviser based in Mohill, Co Leitrim

Tom.Coll @teagasc.ie

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