The recent reports that April was one of the coldest on record and had above average rainfall will not come as a surprise to many.
It is a continuation of the difficult conditions that have persisted for nearly a year now. There does appear to be signs of improving conditions and grass growth, but concentrates are still forming an important part of the feeding programme on many farms.
Twin suckling ewes at Lyons were receiving 500g of concentrates per day up to May 1. At the moment the ewes are grazing the hill at Lyons, which can be described as 'very' old permanent pasture.
There is a massive contrast between the performance of these pastures and the recently reseeded dairy grazing block. Grass growth rates on the hill are approximately 40pc of what they are on the dairy block.
This difference will reduce as the year continues. The ability to grow more grass at the shoulders of the year, especially in spring, is one of the big positives from reseeding. Grass quality is good, with a crude protein content of 25pc and a Metabolisable Energy content of 12.7MJ/kg DM.
The very cold April caused significant challenges for our ewes with five or six ewes suffering badly from gangrene mastitis, leaving us with no choice but to introduce creep feed for these lambs.
Along with a small number of pedigree sheep we run, these are the only lambs receiving creep at the moment.
Twin lambs have an average growth rate of 300g/day. I don't have the most recent figures for the singles.
There were a few cases of coccidiosis about three weeks ago, though this was not severe enough to require treatment. We dosed for nematodirus last week as the recent increase in temperatures, following the cold spell, had given rise to a large egg hatch and animals were starting to present symptoms.
This year, as part of the experimental work at Lyons, milk production from a selection of 100 ewes is being recorded weekly.
This involves the weight-suckle-weigh technique, where lambs are weighed before and after they suckle the ewe, with the change in weight representing the milk consumption, and hence milk produced. The most recent results from this show that ewes are producing 2.2-2.5kg of milk per day. This is in week five of lactation when these twin-bearing ewes will already have passed their peak lactation.
I am also artificially rearing 17 lambs this year. These are triplet/quads and quintuplets mainly, plus a couple of lambs rejected by ewe lambs. The lambs are being fed using a Volac Ewe-2 feeder and Volac Lamlac. Performance has been excellent with growth rates in excess of 300g/day.
There was very little training of lambs required, the first two or three were directed to suckle on a couple of occasions, but when new lambs were introduced they learned what to do from the lambs that had experience. I think it was very important that all these lambs got colostrum via a stomach tube immediately after birth. There was no incidence of joint ill or E-coli in this group.
After a week to 10 days, lambs were moved onto cold milk replacer with no issues. In my opinion, it is important to have continuous access to the milk replacer as this will prevent lambs gorging when fresh milk replacer is introduced.
Meals were also introduced at this stage and the lambs will be weaned to an all-concentrate diet and housed indoors, once their concentrate intake reaches 250g/day.
Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production at Lyons Research Farm, UCD. E-mail: email@example.com