Farming

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The mortality rate in my lambs is up by one third

The lambing on the farm is all but over at this stage, with only a few ewes left to lamb. These are ewes that did not show in-lamb on the first scanning but were in-lamb the second time round.

These Blackfaces will have Blackface lambs (Lanark type) instead of Mule lambs, as the Bluefaced Leicester rams were taken up at the end of the mating season to cover any ewes that repeated.

The cold and harsh weather of the last few months is hitting all farms hard and is difficult for both farmer and stock.

With practically no grass growth, I have continued feeding ewes that were on good quality grass this time last year.

Ewes with twin lambs are on 1kg of meals. Creep feeding is also on offer to all the February-born Beltex-cross lambs.

These older lambs do not take long to learn how to use the feeders.

This will hopefully make up for a lower milk supply due to the lack of grass.

If the harsh weather continues I might have to wean the lambs a little earlier than usual.

Lamb mortality is up this year by at least a third to 9-10pc. This seems to be a trend as many other farmers and neighbours have also reported an increase.

I put it mostly down to the cold, wet and windy weather in the middle of March. Nearly all my ewes lamb outdoors, so the cold and wet spell during St Patrick's weekend came at the worst time when our lambing season was peaking.

It was a busy period with many ewes struggling with their lambs.

We brought most of these indoors and the infrared lamps were busy helping revive lambs.

I checked the ewes as often as I could but lambs were still lost to hypothermia.

The ewes had to be on top form to ensure the lambs were licked dry and that the lambs suckled and received colostrum in order to survive.

Once the lambs had hardened they were let out again into the elements, but only in the most sheltered fields on the farm.

The oldest of the lambs have been dosed with a worm drench which includes protection against nematodirus, which is prevalent during April and May. A white drench (benzimadazole) product was used.

The lambs were also dosed with Vecoxan to protect them against coccidiosis.

I decided to dose against coccidiosis as we had a number of Bluefaced Leicester lambs showing signs of the disease. We treated them with sulphate powder and redosed them with Vecoxan, and they are now improving.

Costs this spring have been much higher than last year, largely due to the increase in feeding costs.

The harsh weather has meant that farmers have purchased more fodder, often of questionable quality.

I decided to continue to feed concentrates instead. I spread urea at the end of February and early in March, but with little response.

The continued harsh weather has meant grass is not growing which affects ewe milk production and lamb growth rate.

The increase in the amount of concentrates fed, combined with the increase in lamb mortality, means that an additional €20 extra per lamb is required to ensure that the margin in lamb production is on par with last year.

Current lamb supplies around the country are low, which has resulted in factories paying up to €7/kg for new season lamb.

Hopefully, this price is maintained in order to help with the costs incurred this spring.

Let's hope that we will see an increase in temperatures and an increase in grass growth in the coming weeks.

Tom Staunton runs a flock of 350 ewes on 55ha on the shores of Lough Mask at Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

Irish Independent