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Time to plan ahead after a torrid spring


A scarcity of grass meant that Michael Duffy had to feed all his ewes concentrate until May 10

A scarcity of grass meant that Michael Duffy had to feed all his ewes concentrate until May 10

A scarcity of grass meant that Michael Duffy had to feed all his ewes concentrate until May 10

April's report detailed the very difficult conditions that existed for the lambing season at Michael Duffy's farm in the Fanad peninsula. While Donegal sheep farmers enjoyed a week of good weather after Easter, that was a rare spell of sunshine.

People in the rest of the country probably don't realise how difficult 2015 has been to date on Donegal drystock farms.

The weather during the rest of April and to date in May has been quite poor with more rainfall and lower temperatures than normal. The data from Malin Head indicates that the mean daily temperature during April and May was lower than average, while rainfall in May was almost twice the average.

Grassland and flock management

"The weather and resulting scarcity of grass meant that I had no option but to feed all ewes concentrates until May 10," says Michael Duffy.

"My heavier fields have gown very little grass to date this year. I closed my silage ground on April 20th and applied 2500 gallons slurry and one bag of 24:2:10 per acre but turned ewes in two weeks later as grass growth had not improved."

Despite feeding concentrates to ewes, the lack of grass has caused numerous other issues including, a drop in ewe body condition (BCS), poor milk yield and, depressed ewe and lamb immunity levels.

This in turn led to considerable levels of Orf (on lips, gums and legs), Joint-ill, eye infections, pneumonia and poor lamb growth rates.

The workload has also gone through the roof with each batch of sheep having to be gathered regularly for treatments.

Despite the above efforts, lamb mortality since turn-out to grass has been high but has settled in the last two weeks. All lambs will be weighed this week.

Reseeding postponed

Michael was planning to reseed three hectares. in May, but this idea was shelved because of the grass scarcity. While he has closed 6.5ha for silage on May 21 he will continue feeding concentrates to one batch of 22 very thin ewes.

Once lambs are six weeks old the ewes milk supply normally declines so if grass is scarce it makes more sense to creep feed lambs from then on rather than feed ewes.

At present Michael has creep feeders with 140 lambs, while 50 pet/orphan lambs are being reared indoors.

How long he continues to creep feed still has to be decided.

"If the current grass scarcity continues into mid June I will continue creep feeding and wean about two weeks earlier than normal and give the lambs access to the better grass," he says.

Parasite control

All lambs over five weeks were given a white wormer for Nematodirus in early May as advised in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Nematodirus forecast in April. All ewes will receive a Liver Fluke and Rumen Fluke dose in early June.

"Ewe BCS is a particular concern and all efforts will have to be made to rectify it before the next breeding season," says Michael.

Store lambs / hoggets

The last of the purchased hoggets was sold early last month, but because of the increased pressure on his time during April and May, he is not in position yet to provide an accurate report on this enterprise.

2016 options/changes

Michael is planning some changes for 2016 after experiences this year.

Despite feeding 40kg of concentrates pre lambing, the stress/pressure on ewes in 2015 has been immense and he is looking at the following changes:

• Moving the shearing from December to September.

• Reducing ewe numbers by around 10pc to 2013 levels because of spring grass supply and housing limitations with earlier shearing.

• Delaying lambing by 10 days to March 22nd.

• Lambing may be staggered over a four to five-week period.

On the health side, Michael says that "vaccinations for Enzootic abortion will continue and all ewes will be in Toxoplasma vaccination regime for 2016". Investigations into treatment options for Campylobacter abortions are being investigated.

A mineral drench for ewes six weeks pre lambing and preventative Orf treatments are also being looked at. He also says that "spring grass supply will also have to be looked at more aggressively.

"As we're a sheep only enterprise matching grass supply to demand post lambing is critical. Keeping lambed ewes inside did not prove successful in 2015. In this regard autumn close off dates and soil fertility will be addressed. Finally shelter has proved a big factor in 2015 so hedgerow maintenance and planting will be reviewed".

Despite the severity of the conditions encountered to date in 2015 it is obvious that like most other farmers Michael has a positive attitude and is awaiting a rise in the daily weather temperatures.

It will take time to recover from the spring of 2015 but he will use his experience to plan for a better 2016.

John Cannon is a Teagasc business and technology advisor based in Letterkenny.


Indo Farming