With strong lambs, milky ewes, good labour and a decent amount of grass, all we need is a couple of weeks' weather

John Large

John Large

With only two weeks to go before lambing begins, we hope to have the vast majority lambed by March 20. Most of these late lambing ewes will be ones that did not hold to AI.

Except for some late singles, we've now got all the ewes on meal. The triplets are getting 1.2kg of a 20pc crude protein mix of whole and rolled barley, soya hulls, citrus pulp and soya bean meal.

The twins get 1kg and the singles are on 0.4kg. Any ewes that are getting more than 0.5kg/day, such as the twins and triplets, are fed twice daily. The forage with this is hay that was made in 2011, so it is of good quality.

The amount of hay has been cut back for the last two weeks of pregnancy from three bales per day to two. We find that this helps to keep the number of ewes that prolapse to a minimum.

We treat any ewes that prolapse with 10ml of Penstrep and use a harness or rope to restrain any further problems. It is very important to mark these problem ewes so they are not in the flock for next year.

All ewes received their clostridial booster injection in early February. This will give protection to the lambs through antibodies they get from the ewes' colostrum.

This is a lamb's most important feed, and must be given in the first few hours of life. Of course, when you are lambing up to 50 ewes per day, it is not possible to make each lamb feed. So you need a strong lamb that gets up quickly and sucks by himself.

You also need ewes with plenty of milk, which is why we feed the ewes so strongly before lambing.

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In our system the ewe is put into an individual pen as soon as she lambs. Then the lamb's naval is sprayed with iodine and the ewe's teats are checked for milk on both sides. Any ewes with only one teat working are marked so when we get the chance to foster a lamb onto a single mother we can take a lamb off one of these one-teat ewes.

The lambed ewes are left in individual pens for just a day. Before they are put into group pens or out into the field the lambs are weighed, tagged, tailed and castrated.

The ewes and lambs are then spray-marked with the same number. The hope is that this is their last individual treatment. From here on everything is treated as a group. Don't get me wrong – all does not always go to plan.

There's always one ewe that will not stand for its lambs and lambs who cannot find the teat. This year we have purchased some gates with a head restraint build into them.

These can be fitted to the front of any of our individual pens so, rather than moving the ewe to an adaption unit, we can just move the gate to her pen. This way the lamb will have a better chance to suck as the ewe cannot push it away.

We have about 100 individual pens to feed, water and keep well bedded with straw, so it is important to have enough labour.

In this regard, we have two students, one doing the lambing with myself by day and another in at night. This way everyone has their own job and I still get a night's sleep.

We have cleaned out all the sheds this week. We also put the ewes through the foot-bath for the last time and spread some slurry on fields with very little grass.

Next week we will mix enough meal to see us through lambing, put up all the lambing pens and gather up feed troughs and buckets for water. I must also collect some hi-mag buckets and spread fertiliser on ground that is dry enough.

Then all we need is a good couple of weeks' weather.

But with strong lambs, milky ewes, good labour and a decent amount of grass, I've done as much as I can do.

John Large is a sheep farmer based in Tipperary. Email: johnslarge@live.com

Irish Independent

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