Tom Staunton: Quality of the sward key as farmers revel in post-famine feast

Tom Staunton

From famine to feast has been the trend so far this year in relation to grass supplies. I have gone from a very tight supply of grass during the spring to an abundance of grass at the moment.

This week I have been focusing on grassland management on my farm. The recent improvement in the weather has encouraged a high grass growth rate. Unless there is sufficient stock to keep the grass from growing too strong, the quality of the sward will drop as the grass will become too long and stemmy.

To resolve this problem I have reserved 10ac extra for silage and applied two bags of CAN per acre to this ground as it might come in handy come the winter.

I topped the remaining fields, which have grown too strong.

Topping promotes quality re-growth and it allows me to ensure I have a better, higher quality sward in front of the lambs that I have weaned, as they are now more reliant on it with the absence of the ewes.

I generally top the grass at a low level of approximately 4cm to 5cm because it allows for quality leafy re-growth. I find that topping any higher will not give as good a quality result.

The first draft of my French market lambs were sold last week at a price of €5.40/kg. The lambs sold ranged between 39kg and 45kg and they killed out at an average of 19kg.

This was approximately a 46pc kill out. The price is up 60c/kg on this time last year. The upcoming Muslim festival of Ramadan has a part to play in this.

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The live export market for sheep has come to the fore over the last few weeks. A ship carrying 4,000 ram lambs and 1,000 hogget rams for Libya sailed from Waterford last Friday.

Prices of €2.40 to €2.50/kg liveweight were paid to farmers for ram lambs weaned and eating meal. This has created more competition within the factories and hopefully will result in a stable market for the sheep trade.

I have set about weaning my lambs this week. Lambs are approximately 14 weeks old on average, as most of them were lambed in mid-March. The oldest lambs were weaned first and the lambs were left in the fields where they were grazing.

The ewes were transported away from the lambs to a bare pasture that was out of sight and hearing distance of the lambs. I find leaving the lambs in the pasture they have been grazing the best method of reducing stress on the lambs as they are used to their surroundings.

The ewes that were earmarked at shearing for selling were separated and will be fattened when their udders dry up. Any ewes that have a body condition score (BCS) of 3.5 or over will be sold as soon as possible. A few days after the lambs were weaned and had settled I separated the lambs by weight and size into different batches.


The ewe and weather lambs were also separated as the ewe lambs will be sold as breeding sheep and the weather lambs will be brought to French weight and sold through the South Mayo Quality Lamb Producer Group.

During the weaning process I noticed tape worm in some of my lamb's faeces. They are a worm which lives in the small intestine of the sheep.

Segments are shed in the faeces 30 days after infection in quite long chains. Immunity develops rapidly and, although diarrhoea and poorer thrive can be associated with tapeworm infections, generally clinical and economic losses are minimal.

I acted on this immediately and dosed them with a drench suitable to kill the tapeworms. In general white doses kill off tapeworms better than a clear dose.

Lambs also received a cobalt B12 drench to enhance rumen function. I felt that this was important after having being dosed for tapeworm if it helps avoid ill-thrift.

I noticed while shearing in the past few weeks that there was evidence of blowfly on some of the ewes with some maggots present. The following week I treated the lambs bound for the factory with a short withdrawal period pour-on.

I used pour-on which has a meat withdrawal period of seven days and protects sheep from blowfly for six to eight weeks, which should see most of my factory lambs sold off.

The breeding lambs will go through the dipping tank as it protects them against other parasites which the pour-ons don't cover.

Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer from Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

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