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Farm Update October 2023

Ewe Condition

As I said in the last article we have been working on building condition in the ewes over the last while, making sure they were in good condition going into the mating season.  I have handled all the ewes and any ewe of poor condition is being culled.  A thin ewe will always cause problems.  She will be less healthy, less productive, more likely to need antibiotics, basically problematic.  I think I have to be kind of ruthless with doing this, otherwise I will be creating extra work for myself in Spring.


The rams have been let out with the ewes this week.  I have been using the raddle for the past few years and its working well.  I change the colour every week for the first 3 weeks and after that every 2 weeks it will be changed.  The rams will be pulled out after 5-6 weeks.  In the past I used to leave them with the ewes for 7-8 weeks which meant I had a long dragged out lambing period in Spring with a lot of extra work involved.  Now by pulling the rams after 5-6 weeks I have a more compact lambing, freeing up my time and better efficiency.  My ratio of rams to ewes is 1:35-40. 


We are now at the stage of the year where I am starting to think about closing up grass for the Spring.  I find that by closing up grass using the Autumn rotation planner I have more grass in the Spring, meaning I have ewes with lambs at foot grazing in the Spring without the need to feed meals.  I may have to house a little earlier to achieve this but it’s a lot easier to do that with dry ewes than it is to do it with ewes and lambs and feeding meals in the Spring.  I will have 20% of the grass closed by the end of October.  I will close the fields closest to the house first so that I have access to these fields at lambing time.  I will continue to close fields over the next 7 weeks to have everything closed by mid to late December.


Farm Update May 2023

Lambing Complete

I am glad to be out the other side of lambing.  Lambing went reasonably well for me this year, with no major issues with lambing. But we did have a few difficult nights when stock could not be at grass because of the difficult March / early April.  I think it was the highest rainfall on record in March.  The bad weather made things challenging, but we managed to create space for groups of ewes and their lambs to be held in the sheds until conditions improved.  I tried to make the work a little bit easier this spring by not rearing any bucket calves, which I would normally do.  Labour has become a major issue and it just didn’t make sense stretching myself too thinly, particularly in the middle of lambing.  

Grass Cover

I did a grass cover this week and I have 18 days ahead of me, which is spot on.  This means that I have enough grass for 18 days.  Walking the farm and doing the grass measuring has given me the confidence to make decisions around grassland management. I am waiting for the rotation to settle down, as I had a herd test last week which complicated the matter with keeping the cattle close to the yard to make things easier. 

Grazing the Right Cover

I have now closed up the silage ground and working on the basis that I am better off being a little tight rather than having too much grass around the farm.  If I have lots of grass and flocks are going into heavy covers, the quality of that grass is not great and then it’s a cascading problem in that the following paddock is even heavier because it’s taking so long to graze out the current paddock.  I would prefer to be a little tight on grass for the current paddock on the basis that the next paddock will be the right cover and keep the quality high, especially when lambs are relying more and more on grass for their feed. I learnt my lesson last year by letting the grass get ahead of me and the digestibility suffered.  I hope I have the confidence this year to close up paddocks for silage, even if I am a bit tight for a few days, it will turn around quickly at this time of year once this cold spell passes. 

Dosing for Nematadirus

I am dosing for nematadirus at the moment using a white drench.  I am doing this based on the DAFM forecast.  For the summer, my dosing regime will be based on faecal egg sampling.  I will take a composite sample from 12-15 lambs each time.  It needs to be a fresh sample.  I get the sample bottles from Athenry, because I am in the Signpost programme, but I assume you could also get these from the vet.  I get the results back quickly.  The cattle were egg sampled recently and they came back clean, which means I don’t need to dose for the moment.  The faecal egg sampling takes the guess work out of dosing.  The sheep are first egg sampled at the end of May and done every 2-3 weeks thereafter, depending on the previous tests results.   


Farm Update March 2023


I have got my opening round of fertiliser out.  I applied 20 units of protected urea per acre at the start of last week.  It’s a small bit later than I would have liked but I wanted to make sure conditions across the farm were good before I went with it.  It’s good to have it out before I started lambing.  I just wouldn’t have time to be spreading it during lambing and getting it out later means I’d run into problems with grass availability later in the spring when the demand is rising. 

Opening Cover

I did my opening cover in early February and it was 510kg DM/ha and will do another one now in the coming days. Based on the opening cover and how things are looking I am happy with the quantity of grass I have on the farm and I now have the confidence to feed no concentrate when ewes and lambs go to grass. 

Using the autumn closing plan has helped make sure I have more grass on the farm this year than other years. 


Lambing has started, as ever it started a few days early for us.  The two main priorities for me during the lambing period are hygiene and nutrition. 


In terms of hygiene I dip navels with iodine immediately after lambs are dropped and I do it again a few hours later to ensure lambs navels have dried up.  All of the individual pens are cleaned out between different ewes and lambs and lime is applied and a fresh bed of straw put in every pen.  It’s the only way to make sure there isn’t a build-up of potential problems. 


The second big focus is on colostrum.  I make sure that all lambs get adequate colostrum early in life to make sure they get immunity from the mother to reduce the risk of disease challenges and also energy to keep them warm.  The ewes have been well fed in the run up to lambing with adequate soya in the mix so most ewes will have enough colostrum themselves.  We aim to get 50ml of colostrum fed per kg of birth weight within the 1st 1-2 hrs of birth.  For any ewes that are a little short or maybe have triplets, I will milk the ewe out completely and divide the ewes own colostrum pro-rata across her lambs.  We will then top up with dairy colostrum where it’s needed.  The key thing for us here is we don’t go straight in with the substitute milk, even a small bit of ewe’s own colostrum is really important to a lamb. 


Des Powell

Farm Update

Des Powell operates a sheep and beef farm just outside Templederry in Co. Tipperary in conjunction with his parents George and Frieda. The farm is made up of 97ha of grassland which is divided into 2 blocks but all situated within approximately 2km from the main farm.  The land area farmed consists of approximately 65ha of owned land with the remainder of land a mix of short term rented and leased land.  He has 314 mature ewes and is building towards a target of 400 ewes. Des runs Belclare, Suffolk and Charollais rams with the ewes and replacement females are retained from the Belclare and Suffolk rams. There were 100 dry ewe lambs retained this year to be bred as hoggets in 2023.  Currently there are 64 older cattle (20-24months) on the farm. This is a mixture of bullocks and heifers with some of these being sold presently in the local mart. Also on the farm are 66 weanlings (dairy bred) some of which were bought as calves last spring and some which were purchased as weanlings in the autumn. They are mostly Hereford and Aberdeen Angus crosses.


I am busy getting ready for lambing and the main focus on the farm right now is getting the feeding right. 

I did my fodder budget last week with my local adviser Michael Daly.  It seems I am short 11 tonnes DM.  So I decided to sell 15 forward stores to reduce demand and make sure I don’t run into problems later in the spring.  I have got my silage analysed so that I can plan my meal feeding rate to match the silage quality and make sure ewes are getting enough energy and protein. Silage quality came back variable with some coming back at 75 DMD at 24% dry matter and 14.3% protein, while another sample came back at 69.9% DMD at 26.4% dry matter and 12.9% crude protein. Frank Campion, my BETTER Sheep programme adviser, prepared the feeding plan with me based on ewes being grouped according to litter size firstly, then by raddle marks and by ewe condition.  I have the ewes scanned and condition scored.  Where I have ewes with less than a 3.0 condition score, the doubles will go in with the triplets and the single will go in with the doubles, etc, to give them a little extra feeding.  Below is my feeding plan for the ewes pre-lambing which is based on the 69.9% DMD silage. This is the result of the analysis from back half of the silage pit and the silage I am feeding at the moment.

Feeding Plan for Ewes Pre-lambing   
Weeks before lambing 6 4 2
Single 0 200 400
Twins 200 400 800
Triplets 400 800 1200

I have some ration bought but I feel I will need to add soya to the ration in the final 3 weeks pre-lambing to make sure I have enough bypass protein in the diet to get the colostrum right.  The amount I add will be based on the rule of thumb of 100g of soya per scanned lamb.

Protected Urea
I will be going out with protected urea as soon as underfoot conditions allow and soil temperature is sufficiently high (>6oC) for me to get value from it.  I need to do this to make sure I have grass later in the Spring. I know that come March and I am lambing I won’t have time to get it out so I need to go early. I also feel I have more grass on the farm this Spring as I closed up earlier and followed my Autumn Closing Plan.  I didn’t use protected urea last year and in hindsight I probably should have pushed harder to get it.  I suppose it’s up to farmers to drive the demand for protected urea.  It makes total sense for my farm – it’s cheaper than CAN when you account for the higher level of N in it compared to CAN.