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Busy start to the autumn in Co Carlow

Eddie Gavin, a sheep farmer near Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow is a participant in the Teagasc BETTER farm sheep programme. Ciaran Lynch Sheep Specialist & Eoin Woulfe Teagasc Advisor, discuss Eddie's decision to explore the option of store lamb finishing this year instead of early lambing

About Eddie Gavin

Eddie Gavin is a participant in the Teagasc BETTER farm sheep programme. He is farming alongside his wife, two young children and his parents near Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow while also carrying out machinery contracting for local farmers. Eddie is operating a mixed farming enterprise comprising of sheep, beef and tillage.

Focus on mid season ewes and store lamb finishing

Eddie took the decision earlier this season not to go with an early lambing flock rather to focus on the mid-season ewes and explore the option of store lamb finishing for this farm. With ewes weaned in late June Eddie has sorted through the breeding flock and identified the culls for selling. He has culled harder this year removing older ewes and those that had under preformed. Some of these ewes would have remained in the system for the early lambing flock in previous years as final crop ewes. When he looked back at the performance of some of their similar counterparts this spring they tended to under-perform, with their lambs having low growth rates, not something he wanted in a March lambing flock. With the culls removed there will be 260 ewes going to the ram this autumn.

The dry conditions had an impact on grass growth. To slow up demand the ewe flock were held up for 10 days in early August and supplemented with hay produced earlier in the season before moving them off the main block to an out farm for grazing to build condition. The lamb crop were split at the start of August with the heavier ones going into a finishing group where they were supplemented initially in a creep feeder. When the creep feeder was removed, concentrate was fed at a rate of 500g/head per day in troughs. Eddie will keep this finishing group topped up with lambs of 38 kg plus as the season progresses. Replacement ewe lambs are managed as a separate group from mid-August onward.  

Drafting lambs

Overall drafting this season was slow – a problem experienced on many farms this year. The first batch of 55 lambs drafted finished into a 20.4 kg carcass. The delayed drafting this season was a knock on consequence of the growth rate up to weaning that resulted in weaning weights 2kg behind target. A decline in grass quality earlier in the session a problem experienced by many played its part however other factors such as the parasite challenge have an impact.

Worm control and drench testing

Eddie has been relying mainly on 3-ML macrocyclic lactone (clear dose) based products to control worms over the past few seasons and was treating the adult ewes up until last year. This put him at risk of developing resistance and given some of the issues he experienced with lamb performance, it warranted further investigation.

As part of the programme Eddie has been monitoring worm burdens this season by submitting Fekpak on a fortnightly basis. With worm egg counts of over 500 epg in mid-July it presented an opportunity to test the efficacy of a product from his category.

A drench test was conducted with 15 lambs marked and sampled prior to dosing, treated with an Ivermectin based drench and re sampled 14 days later, care was taken to ensure the dosing gun was calibrated and delivering the correct amount.  The results are presented in Table 1.

Unfortunately this confirms the suspicion that Eddie’s farm has advanced resistance to 3-ML based products.

Resistance is determined when the dose used fails to kill at least 95% of the worms present.

In Eddie’s case the wormer was only 45% effective or in other words 55% of the worms survived the dose. At this level of efficacy lamb performance is already suffering.  This poses a challenge for lamb management in the coming years, but it’s one he is now aware of and can take steps to address.

In the short term, Eddie will use a 2-LV levamisole (yellow dose) based product. Given the very low usage of products from this category on his farm in previous years hopefully it will work effectively – something that will be checked.

In the longer term, regular monitoring of worm burdens, crop rotations and potentially store lambs carrying susceptible worms will play a role in developing a more sustainable worm control strategy on the farm.

Tillage on the farm

Both the winter and spring barley crops harvested in ideal conditions. Eddie sowed combination forage rape and Redstart in alternate fields after the winter barley as a catch crop. With the dry conditions no fertilizer was applied at sowing instead he will wait to see if they strike and then apply the required amounts. In previous years the crops were used to delay housing and for the early lambing flock post turnout, the latter to mixed degrees of success. Eddie is looking at the option of using these crops to winter some of his lighter lambs into the spring for the hogget trade and bulking this number up with purchased store lambs. In the absence of an early lamb flock this option will provide an additional revenue source with a reduced labour input and would provide a suitable fit for his farming system.

Cattle on the farm

On the cattle enterprise Eddie rears 30 dairy-bred calves each season. These are Friesian and Angus cross bull calves that come on farm reared each spring and remain until the following autumn when sold or finished as steers. The first of these were sold in early August with Friesians weighing in at average of 555kg and the Angus at 490kg returning €2.10 and €2.47 per kg respectively. The option of finishing was considered but with some upgrades required with housing and tight grass supplies heading into the autumn selling live proved a more workable option this year.

Find out more about the BETTER Farm Sheep Programme here

The Teagasc Sheep Specialists, Researchers and Teagasc Advisors issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers on Tuesdays here on Teagasc Daily.  Find more on Teagasc Sheep here  Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. Find your local Teagasc office here