Wet and cold requires switch in strategy
WHERE has all the grass gone? It's been a big change in the weather for the last two weeks, with plenty of heavy showers and even hailstones, and the bank of grass we had in March is almost gone.
Any fields not spread with urea in February were given 1.5 bags of Pasture Sward on March 22. We got a good response and this is what we are grazing now. Any fields grazed by March 12 got 20 units of Net Nitrogen. These fields freshened up nicely but there is not an awful lot of grass on them.
This time last year we recorded growth of 45kg/ha. Now it is nearer to 15kg/ha.
The question now is which approach to take. We need to keep lambs thriving while at the same time slow down our grazing rotation. My strategies to give grass a chance to recover are:
1. Put in creep-feeders with the lambs for a few weeks and keep their daily liveweight gain at 300g per day. Another plus for giving some creep is that when you are trying to get the lambs to graze the next paddock ahead of the ewes they can be coaxed out through the creep-gate by having these creep-feeders in the next paddock.
2. Spread some more fertiliser once ground conditions improve and the weather gets a bit milder.
3. We were going to spray-off early for re-seeding. This will now be put on hold until mid-May and give us another grazing off these fields.
4. As we have some winter fodder left since last year in the form of round bale silage and hay, there will be no big rush to close up ground for this year's crop.
5. We are also giving 1kg of meal to the hogget ewes rearing twins and the lambs have access to creep. The last ones born are put back into the shed at night where their mothers get meal and the lambs have a dry place to sleep.
With these measures in place we should be able to get through this big change in grass growth, but this is farming and every week brings a new challenge. All we can do is adjust our approach and move on.
When I mention new challenges, lambing one year-old hoggets must be high on the list. Last year we had a problem with abortion and small and weak lambs.
This year was the opposite, with very little abortion, possibly due to our two injections of long-acting oxytet pre-lambing. The downside was that we had very big single lambs, which were very difficult to lamb with a lot of trips to the vet. Their mothers were given very good grass in early March for about three weeks. Even though I rationed this grass, they must still have got too much.
The rams also came in for some criticism as the lambs had big heads and wide shoulders. I have already had the pleasure of telling these two boys there will be no more ewe lambs for them. To be fair though, after all the complaining about size we have great lambs and mothers with plenty of milk and good mothering ability.
Once the singles were born all we had to do was tail and castrate them the next day and put them out to grass. The twins were kept separate so they could be fed some meal.
The next job is to dose the lambs for worms. We will use a Levamisole-type dose, hopefully the same day as the lambs are being weighed for the first time. We will put everything through the foot-bath as some lambs are showing signs of scald. Any lame ewes will be turned up and have their feet pared.
We also have some spot spraying of nettles and scotch thistles to get through. These thistles are in fields that were re-seeded last year and, in theory, can also be controlled by topping twice in the same year before they flower. The nettles are in a field that we re-seeded in August 2010 which had very little of them beforehand so I hope they did not arrive with the grass-seed.
John Large is a sheep farmer in Tipperary. Email: email@example.com
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