The wet, gloomy weather over the last few weeks perhaps reflects the mood of the country at present. I have found this lockdown more challenging than the last. The children are at home for school, as is Alison.

They miss their friends and we miss the social interactions with others too. Home-schooling, even with a teacher in the house, is challenging, as we all try to juggle work and helping them out. It has been difficult with the evenings being dark and the weather has curtailed activities. Normally before lambing starts, I usually get a short break away from the farm and feel well rested before the busy period of lambing begins. Unfortunately, not this year. Cabin fever has well and truly set in.

The weather has also not helped with drying out the fields in advance of the coming lambing season – they are definitely not dry enough to take the tractor and fertiliser spreader out on yet. Considering these conditions, the grass covers across the farm are very good at present, with an average farm cover of 580kg DM/ha.

I hope to start taking more regular grass measurements this coming month. I plan to use protected urea for my first round of fertiliser once ground conditions and soil temperatures improve.

I will start spreading this on a phased basis across the farm, starting with the fields I’m planning on getting stock out to first. I will be spreading 23 units of N per acre once weather and ground conditions allow.

We have started to administer the clostridial booster to the mature ewes. This is also done on a phased basis, according to when the ewes are due to lamb.

Ideally, they should be done four to six weeks out from due date to give enough time for the ewes to produce the antibodies sufficiently for passive immunisation of lambs through their colostrum.

Once the ewes have been vaccinated, I plan on cleaning out the pens in the shed prior to lambing. Also, as the ewes are going through the handling unit, we will be putting them through the footbath. Any ewes that are lame will be marked and treated. I will move all these ewes into a different pen, so as to help to reduce exposure to the other ewes in the shed.

Any ewes that are still lame after lambing will be run separately until recovered, with those that don’t recover removed from the system. I will also take the opportunity to identify ewes that are not in optimum body condition score and pen them together to receive extra feeding to prevent any additional losses in condition prior to lambing.

At present, the ewes carrying three or more lambs are receiving meal. These are being built up gradually over the coming weeks to approximately 0.6kg of meal per head by the time of lambing, along with a total mixed ration of 79.6 dry matter digestibility (DMD) silage and soya, meaning the triplet, quad and any thin couple-bearing ewes are all that require additional supplement.

I found this way of feeding reduced stress on both the animals and myself last year, as well as reducing shoving around the feeding barrier, as there will always be a consistent feed available to the ewes. This level of feeding should also provide the singles with sufficient levels of protein to have enough milk to rear foster lambs from the ewes.

I am concerned that the new straw chopping scheme has the potential to further increase the cost of production for myself and other farmers that need to purchase straw for bedding. In my opinion, the proposed financial supports for such a scheme could be better used to expand the already under-funded Protein Aid Scheme.

In an attempt to reduce our need to import protein feed sources from abroad, it would increase the amount of high-quality home-grown protein and grain available to include in the rations that we feed our animals.

Supporting our industries here that are inter-connected would reduce the need for imports and help secure jobs here.