Testing out fresh vs chilled semen on ewes


John Large

John Large

It's been busy on the farm lately, getting the ewes inseminated. As we have a Central Progeny Test (CPT) flock under the Sheep Ireland programme, the ewes had to be AI'd to given pedigree rams.

The flock was divided into two groups of 300 each, with a five-day gap between the groups being inseminated. The same five breeds of ram as last year were used, Suffolk, Charollais, Texel, Vendeen and Belclare.

The one extra job this year was to keep the hogget ewes separate and pick them into their own breed group. This was done to make sure they would not be served by a ram from the same family as the ewe's parent ram. What we did was put the Belclare-cross hoggets to a Suffolk ram, the Charollais and Vendeens to a Texel, the Suffolks to a Vendeen and the Texels to a Belclare. It was hard to distinguish some of each breed but this job was done to the best of our ability.

The semen is normally taken from the rams, which are transported to the farm, and then used while 'fresh'. However, the semen used on the second day was collected from the rams the evening before and arrived chilled the morning after.

It will be interesting to see if we get as good a conception rate from this method as we get from using fresh semen. If it works out OK, then there will be no need for transporting rams around to each farm in the future.

Our own rams will be let to all the ewes on October 28 to serve the repeat ewes. The ewe lambs will be joined with the rams on the same day. The rams will be removed after 34 days, which will be two full cycles. So we will have two separate lambing periods next year, with a good week between them so we can get the first lot tidied up before the others start.

I can never understand how some flocks take up to three months to lamb. What we find is the longer lambing goes on, the higher the losses get. This is due to a build-up of infectious disease in the main lambing area and the shepherd cannot concentrate on just one main job because he has ewes and lambs of various ages to look after. We would hope to lamb 450 ewes in 10 days, then we break for a week before lambing 135 ewes and 130 ewe lambs in five weeks. So that should be us finished in a little over seven weeks.

Sales of lambs are still going well. We are now down to one group on the forage rape that is under-sown with grass. These lambs are getting 300g of meal made up of rolled barley, soya hulls and whole barley. This is fed in the evening in a seperate field of old ley where the lambs spend the night so as not to damage the new grass getting going in the rape. They are led back onto the rape field each morning. This crop was sown in the last days of August. It was very slow to get going but has bulked up in the past two weeks.

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The remainder of the lambs are on grass and meal. They will be finished on forage rape sown later after spring barley. We have more lambs sold this year than our average for the past five years. What I put this down to is the good dry weather we have had over the past few months, or, more importantly, the better growth rates we are getting from all the reseeding we have done.

Both the amount and quality of this grass is a lot better. None of the lambs sold so far have received any meal. This is a big saving and can be attributed to the good grass growth and better grass management.

Indeed, with a plentiful supply of grass after another good month's growth, we should have enough until early December. Then the ewes will be moved to fodder beet tops.

On another front, I am currently trying to buy some heifers for replacements. Not only have they risen in price by about €200/hd but they are really hard to find. All I am looking for is a Limousin cross from a Friesian cow that looks to be an R-grade.

In conclusion, no dairy farmers use a Limousin bull, but maybe they should because there is a very good market for the cross heifers.

John Large is a sheep farmer in Gortnahoe, near Thurles, Co Tipperary. Email: johnslarge@live.com

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