Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

The work is done... now we await the results in 2013

Breeding is now finished with the Lyons flock and all that remains now is to see the scanning results after Christmas. A number of farmers are reporting that litter size is back on last year for early lambing flocks.

Our ewes were in slightly poorer condition at mating this year, so we are eagerly awaiting the scanning results.

The mature rams are grazing on the hill ground at the moment, while the ram lambs are indoors on ad lib silage and 0.5kg of meals per day. The ram lambs still have some developing to do and need to be fed accordingly.

The ewes were turned out on to the forage rape on December 3, while the ewe lambs continue to graze 30ac of the hill ground at Lyons. This will be closed on December 21, with a view to grazing on April 1.

The first of the grassland for the sheep was closed in mid-November, and we are targeting a turnout date for this ground of mid-March. There has been some moderate re-growth on these paddocks since closing but it is very important that they are not re-grazed at this stage.

These paddocks can either be grazed in late December or in early March, but in most parts of the country it is not possible to do both. I would prefer to have the grass in March to support ewe milk production and hence lamb growth.

The suckling lamb in the first 5-7 weeks of life is the most efficient converter of feed to gain on the sheep farm, so we must try to take advantage of this by maximising milk production of the ewe from grass.

We still have 25 lambs, indoors on ad-lib meals. These lambs are consuming 1.5kg of meals per day and converting this feed to a live weight gain at about 6.5:1 on a drymatter (DM) basis.

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The efficient suckling lamb I spoke about above will convert drymatter to gain on a 1:1 basis, so it makes sense to capture this efficiency on early life.

Ten lambs were slaughtered on Thursday, December 6 at €4.45/kg for a maximum carcass weight of 22kg. I don't have the factory data on these lambs. There will be another 10 lambs to go for slaughter this week.

This year I had the opportunity to contribute to some of the Teagasc sheep seminars around the Leinster region.

I find this very enjoyable and informative and always learn something.

There are a few big issues cropping up over and over again at these meetings, with fluke (both liver fluke and rumen/stomach fluke) and poor silage quality topping the list of farmer questions. In some quarters, a lack of certainty exists about dosing strategies and products to be used.

The issue in relation to fluke control is too complex to address fully here but there are a few important points to bear in mind this year.

Farms that would not previously have experienced fluke are seeing problems this year, and liver fluke remains a much greater problem than rumen fluke.

In addition, all flukicides are not the same, since they vary greatly in the stages of liver fluke that they are effective against. So consult your advisor or your vet for guidance on product selection.

As always, the cheapest product may not offer the best value. Consult your abbatoir or butcher in terms of evidence of liver damage to inform your treatments.

At the risk of repeating myself, a silage test this year represents excellent value at €33. This is equivalent to four bags of meal, so you will not be long recouping your costs. In spite of this, a large proportion of farms have not tested their silage to date.

Quality is down on average, but there is also massive variation between farms, where harvest conditions, at first glance, did not appear too dissimilar.

The biggest mistake we can make is over-estimating the contribution the forage will make to the animals' requirements. Test the silage and feed according to the results you obtain.

All that remains is for me to wish all the readers a Happy Christmas, and for the early lambers, a successful lambing season.

Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production and ruminant nutrition at UCD's Lyons Research Farm, Newcastle, Co Dublin

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