Farm Ireland

Friday 17 November 2017

The scales reveal the impact of last spring's poor weather on lambs

The current thrive rates on Michael Duffy's farm in Inishowen are excellent, but overall lamb weights are still down on 2014

Michael Duffy collecting grass last July for a refractometer (sugar percentage test) on his farm in Co Donegal.
Michael Duffy collecting grass last July for a refractometer (sugar percentage test) on his farm in Co Donegal.
Michael Duffy helps Joe Moore from Letterkenny weigh some lambs during the East Donegal Lamb Producer Group's visit to the ICM plant.

John Cannon

Our last report on the Duffy farm in Donegal referred to the dominant role played by the poor weather.

While things did improve for about three weeks in late June and early July it was followed by four weeks of cold and wet weather from mid-July until mid-August.

The weather and grass growth has improved since August, but rain has never been too far away.

Silage Crop

The wet weather delayed silage cutting of 6.5ha by 10 - 14 days to July 14. It was tedded the following morning and ensiled in the evening.

This silage area was originally closed on April 20 but was grazed and closed properly on May 25.

"I am hoping it might make 70 DMD but am prepared for the high 60s," said Michael who described the crop as very heavy.

The sugar percentage was only 2pc immediately post cutting but the wilt would have helped increase it to near 3pc.

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A silage cut was taken off a grazing paddock of 1.2ha on July 14. This area had too much grass for sheep to graze so on June 25 it was closed up and given 40 units N/ac.

Michael also cut a 1.2ha grazing paddock on August 21 and wrapped it on the following day - getting a window of opportunity between wet days.

This paddock was surplus to grazing requirements on July 14 and had about 7cm of grass then. Around 50 units N/ac was applied to it on July 18.


Michael did not sow Tyfon this year because of the poor weather. In fact the only reseeding carried out was one acre that was damaged during the construction of the sheep house in 2014.

This was reseeded on August 21 and is now ready for grazing.

After the setbacks suffered post lambing there has been a big improvement in lamb growth rate and ewe body condition scores (BCS). Michael delayed weaning by two weeks until mid-July because there was surplus grass at that time.

He creep-fed 140 lambs plus his pet/orphan lambs. He fed his heavier lambs 0.5kg/hd/day after weaning and 55 of his smallest lambs were fed 0.25kg/day.

Thirty pet lambs were on ad-lib creep but at present any remaining are on 0.5kg/day with the other lambs.

Lamb sales are behind 2014 at present as shown by Table 1 (256 v 311) due to the setbacks experienced in the springtime. However recent lamb thrive has been exceptional, probably as a result of better grass growth than during July and August.

"I weighed 110 ram lambs on Friday September 25 and they gained 310 grams/day over the previous 16 days compared to an average daily live weight gain since birth of 240 grams/day," says Michael.

"I also weighed 103 ewe lambs on Saturday and they had gained 240 grams per day during the previous 16 days compared to 226 grams per day since birth."

Both of these groups were on 0.5kg of feed per day on excellent grass.

The entire farm received one bag/acre of 27-2, 5-5 fertiliser between August 20-25. This gave an excellent response which has resulted in a god supply of grass during September.

Parasite Control

The ewe flock was given an Oxyclosanide dose for fluke in early June.

This was followed up with a Triclabendazole dose for Liver Fluke in mid-September.

The lambs were given an Ivermectin worm dose in mid-June and late July followed by a Moxidectin dose in September.

All replacement ewe lambs were vaccinated against Toxoplasma and Enzootic abortion in September.

Store Lamb Purchases

Michael did not purchase store lambs until mid-September in 2015 because of the lack of surplus grass and the strong trade for store lambs to date this year.

He has 200 at present.

On arrival they were given a quarantine dose for worms (full rate Cydectin and Levamisole), Triclabendazole for Liver Fluke and a cobalt dose. They will be given Ovivac P+ next week and introduced to meals.

As signalled in the June update Michael has implemented some changes.

He bought 35 ewe lamb replacements from two known sources as follows:

Fifteen that are 50pc Texel, 25pc Belclare and 25pc BFM. (Texel bred from Blackfaced Mountain x Belclare ewes )

Twenty that are 75pc Suffolk and 25pc Belclare (New Zealand Suffolk bred from Suffolk x Belclare ewes).

He also has 25 of his own Belclare cross ewe lambs selected as replacements and he plans to mate these 60.

"I did this to minimise the risk of introducing disease," says Michael. "I also winter sheared the flock in early September this year instead of December which should be easier on the ewes both after shearing and after turnout in spring and will delay lambing by seven days until March 20, 2015.

"I have reduced my ewe flock by 40 to 300 ewes. This is because I want to give them more feed space this winter and grass supply in the spring of 2015 was very tight."

John Cannon is a Teagasc advisor based in Letterkenny email:

Following the lambs to the factory floor

Michael Duffy is chairman of the East Donegal Lamb Producer Group and he helped organised a recent visit by 26 farmers in the group to ICM's plant in Navan.

"The group found the visit very informative and were praised by James Smith from ICM for the presentation and quality of our lambs each week," said Michael.

"We were able to follow our lambs through the factory, discover how much weight they lost during transit and how they killed out subsequently. Lambs lost between 1.2kg -2.7kg during transport with those lambs on ad-lib meal losing least (see Table 2 above).

"We also saw two groups of our lambs that showed signs of Liver Fluke damage from infection that was picked up in the previous five weeks."

Frank Sullivan, a Department of Agriculture vet, had examples of lambs' livers infected with Liver Fluke which he said was quite an issue this year.

He also showed the group examples of Rumen Fluke which is only an issue in some areas. He advised the group to "give sub-cutaneous injections (such as the Clostridia vaccine) behind the shoulder and to use an automatic syringe. Based on this advice, Michael dosed his ewes for Liver Fluke in September 10 days earlier than normal.

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