Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Today is the crucial weaning examination for our Lyons flock

Today sees one of the major events in the sheep farming year occurring at Lyons, with weaning taking place. The event is made all the more important as the Lyons flock is one of the Sheep Ireland CPT flocks, with a lot of extra data being collected.

Information on lamb weights and growth rate, muscle and fat depth and foot and dag scores are all collected on the day. This data will then be used to calculate the star ratings for the lambs at Lyons and will assist us in identifying our replacement ewe lambs for mating in October. In addition, all ewes will be body condition scored.

Ewes will not be housed after weaning but instead they will be heavily stocked on bare pasture for approximately two weeks. These ewes will then be used to clean out paddocks after the lambs or cattle until we look at flushing in August.

It's important not to forget about the ewes at this stage particularly when it comes to lameness. Our ewes will go through the footbath every 2-3 weeks as a routine preventative approach. We need to particularly vigilant for CODD (contagious ovine digital dermatitis) and any cases are immediately isolated from the remainder of the flock and receive specific antibiotic foot-bathing.

At the moment we use a formalin solution to treat the ewes, but we have varied this with bluestone and zinc sulphate in recent years. Special attention needs to be given to lameness in lambs also.

Lameness can severely impact lamb performance and in some severe cases impair carcass quality. Scald can be a particular issue on lush after-grass if the weather is wet so its important to stay on top of this. As lambs should be going through the race at least every fortnight for drafting it is not much extra work to footbath them also.


Silage was harvested at Lyons in late May and re-growths are coming along well. This after- grass will form the major part of the diet for the weaned lamb.

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When the lamb is weaned there is an inevitable growth check and ensuring the highest quality pasture is available to the lamb will help to minimise this reduction in performance. Once the lamb is weaned, the kill-out percentage will begin to drop, as there is greater gut-fill on a grass-only diet.

Lamb growth rate continues to decline as weaning approaches. At 13 weeks of age the average weight of the twins was 29kg, with growth rates over the previous month of 225g/day.

Lambs were dosed on May 30 with a levamisole drench. This was their second dose. Faecal egg counts will be taken at weaning and the decision as to whether to dose or not will be taken based on these results.

Lambs were also vaccinated against the clostridial disease on May 30 and they will receive the second injection on June 27. Lambs received their cobalt boluses last week and these should cover the lambs through to slaughter, in addition to reducing the requirement for fortnightly drenching. Lambs were also crutched last week and this has proven to reduce the incidence of blow-fly strike over the years.

Grass growth has improved as you would expect, and growth rate in the week to June 12 was 90kg DM/ha/day.

Saturday, July 3, sees the hosting of SHEEP2012 at Teagasc Athenry. The event is jointly organised by Teagasc, UCD, Bord Bia, Sheep Ireland, Department of Agriculture and the Irish Farmers Journal, with Kepak as the main sponsor.

It promises a range of technical, commercial and family-orientated events on the day, plus a large display of sheep with some breed societies holding their national breed championships on the day.

Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production at UCD's Lyons research farm. Email:

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