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This year's lambing will test my systems

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Since the beginning of October throughput is running 51,000hd (12pc) behind 2013 levels

Since the beginning of October throughput is running 51,000hd (12pc) behind 2013 levels

Getty Images/Flickr RF

Since the beginning of October throughput is running 51,000hd (12pc) behind 2013 levels

The first cold spell of 2015 has ewes working harder foraging for feed. It reminded me that the ewes lambing in late February and early March need an increase in feed supplementation. The ewes currently have some high energy feed buckets and have had these for the last fortnight.

The earlier lambing ewes will begin feeding this week. They will start off on a lower amount of 0.4kg, which will gradually increase up until lambing to 0.8-1kg, depending on body condition and the number of lambs the ewe is carrying.

Feeding will continue for several weeks after lambing to ensure ewes have healthy lambs, and lots of milk and energy.

I find feeding on ewes in early lactation is very beneficial for lamb growth as they have more milk. The Blackface ewes lambing in late March and April are all outdoors, while the twin-bearing ewes have been supplied with high energy feed buckets.

The triplet-bearing Blackface ewes will also be put inside to help give me the opportunity to foster the lambs onto other ewes. If I don't have any ewes ready for adopting, the lambs will be put on the automatic feeder that I used for the first time last year. I found that it worked quite well.

Lambs thrived and problems were kept to a minimum as long as the feeder was kept full with milk. If it emptied out, the lambs were too greedy when it was filled again, resulting in some sick lambs.

Hygiene in terms of cleaning the feeder and the teats was also important. We also added some liquid minerals to the milk from time to time to make up for any deficiency the lambs might have. Clean water and a cooked creep ration was kept with the lambs from the start. I like to get organised at this stage of the year for whatever lies ahead.

With this in mind, I have cleaned out the sheds and the Bluefaced Leicester ewes have been moved in. I cleaned the sheds using a three-step process.

First, I cleaned out all manure and washed it down with an enzymatic product (Glanzym) in the power washer. I then disinfected the shed with an oxidative disinfectant that does not leave residue.

This was important to allow that last step to work - spraying the shed with probiotic bacteria that prevent any disease-causing pathogens from establishing

These 'good bacteria' dominate over the ones responsible for disease. But I have to continue spraying the probiotic bacteria throughout the lambing season to prevent disease build-up, especially towards the end of lambing.

This is a new system used in piggeries and broiler farms in Europe. Two years ago we had a bad outbreak of scour with the Bluefaced Leicester lambs. I put it down to lack of preparation, and the system became more stressed as the lambing progressed.

Coccidiosis and cryptosporidium were the culprits at the time - hence the thorough cleaning this year.

Products alone are not enough - I learned this the hard way by losing lambs. Good management is also needed. I lamb ewes indoors, but mostly outdoors, and there's pluses and minuses to each system.

Disease is an obvious disadvantage with indoor lambing if it's not managed properly, while harsh weather conditions can perish lambs in a matter of minutes outdoors if ewes are not well fed and there isn't good shelter. Lambing indoors has the added benefit of being kinder to the farmer, but it does require adequate housing, a good system and plenty of space.

I am undecided about ever going all indoor lambing, but this season will be as good a test as any. I wish a successful lambing season to all.

Tom Staunton farms at Tourmakeady, in Co Mayo

tstaunton@ independent.ie

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