Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

The secret weapon for putting weight on lambs -- a Typhon

John Shirley

The Irish Grassland Association always visits interesting farms and last week it was the turn of William Hutchinson, who farms 120ha near Kells in Co Kilkenny.

William is a sheep fan, otherwise he wouldn't have stayed with them. Every year he lambs down 500 sheep, including 175 ewe lambs and three pedigree flocks of Suffolk, Texel and Ile de France. He is also currently evaluating a fourth breed, the Easy Care.

But William is more than just a fan of sheep; he is a thinking fan of sheep. He is not afraid of new ideas and above all, wants a low labour, high profit system. He monitors Teagasc research closely and takes on board the bits that suit him.

From the Knockbeg research he has adopted winter grazing and outdoor lambing. He practices mixed grazing of cattle and sheep and he works to get good clover pastures. But he will also follow lines that work for him, even if they haven't got a Teagasc blessing.

One example of this is the growing of Typhon (a type of stubble turnip), which is used to get store lambs over the factory fit hurdle from mid summer through to late autumn.

"In dry summers, or in wet summers, I struggle to put weight on weaned lambs on grass alone," he says. So every year, come late April, about 20ac of old pasture is sprayed off and grazed off six days later. In early May, one pass, in lowest tractor gear, drills in grass seed plus 2kg/ac of Typhon.

By weaning time in early July, the Typhon is as tall as the lambs. The leaves are eaten, leaving the bulbs to re-grow. The crop is grazed again two or three times before bulbs and all are eaten before winter. Next year the grass comes through, without the Typhon but with lots of clover. The lambs on Typhon consistently gain 2kg/week and improve in kill-out rate. Typhon stays as part of this farmer's armoury.

In spring and summer, the Hutchinson sheep are grazed with young beef bulls in a ratio of 54pc sheep to 46pc beef. The bulls are hauled indoors in August/early September, allowing a build up of grass for winter grazing of the ewe flock.

Also Read

This saved grass, plus 30 acres of rented grass, grazed in one-day blocks, (despite the snow) enabled William to keep sheep outdoors until February 10 this year. On February 10, ewes carrying twins were moved back at grass in readiness for outdoor lambing from early March.

The plan was to move the non-lambing ewes to a new paddock daily. This spring's weather was ideal for outdoor lambing but grass had to be supplemented by about 30 tonnes of swede turnips.

Should adverse weather have hit, Plan B was to use sheds for short-term housing.

William is a full participant in the Sheep Ireland sheep breed improvement programme and pedigree sheep are on the same regime as the commercials, with rams sold as hoggets.

Overall this mix of pedigree and commercial sheep returned a gross margin of €73.70/ewe (€724/ha) last year, according to the Teagasc Monitor.

In times of better sheep prices, the pedigrees deliver the most profit but when the going is tough, the commercial flock comes out best.

Indo Farming