The 2021 lambing season is drawing to a close on Tullamore Farm with just 11 ewes/yearling hoggets left to lamb as of Tuesday evening.
Lambing started around 12 March and, after a slow start, over 85% of the 143 mature ewes lambed down in the first three weeks of the lambing season.
A three-and-a-half-week breeding period in the yearling ewe hoggets has also resulted in a relatively tight lambing period with this batch of hoggets mated to begin lambing after the first breeding cycle in mature ewes.
There was a total of 82 yearling hoggets presented for lambing. This includes a batch of 22 yearlings which were purchased to compensate for 17 mature ewes (163 put forward for breeding) scanning empty.
The 22 yearlings are part of a batch of 25 ewe lambs, which were sold off the farm for breeding. They were retained on a farm with no other sheep present and remained on a health programme identical to the one in place on Tullamore Farm.
Their purchase increases the number of Texel cross replacements entering the flock in 2021 but this can be rectified later in the year with the decision to purchase them back based on maintaining a high level of output.
Performance to date over the lambing season has been positive.
There are approximately 300 live lambs on the ground with mortality since the start of lambing running at about 5.7% (17 lambs lost). This excludes eight lambs lost from scanning to lambing.
These losses resulted from one ewe carrying twin lambs dying (no cause confirmed), one carrying triplet lambs suffering from uterine prolapse and another triplet-bearing ewe aborting with post-mortem analysis showing infectious agents were not the cause.
This brings the level of mortality to shy of 8% which is about 5% lower than the corresponding period in the 2020 and 2019 lambing seasons.
There are a few factors which are likely to be contributing to the reduced mortality.
The in-lamb rate of the mature ewe flock was 1.88 lambs in 2021 compared to 2.12 in 2020 and 2.18 in 2019.
In practical terms, there was over half the number (21) of triplet-bearing ewes present than in 2020 (47) and over 65% fewer than in 2019 (57).
These triplet-bearing ewes were a significant contributor to mortality in both of these years.
Farm manager Shaun Diver also feels that ewes were probably in the best condition they have ever been in the run in to lambing.
The late pregnancy feeding programme satisfied nutritional requirements and Shaun says, if anything, ewes were on the higher end of the nutritional curve with this evident in a higher percentage of ewes requiring lambing assistance.
As detailed in previous farm updates, the farm has been recording production data on the Sheep Ireland app for the last two seasons.
This provides some useful lambing reports and quickly summarises key performance indicators.
With regards lambing difficulty, 46.8% of lambs were recorded as lambing unassisted, with a further 22.9% recorded as needing voluntary assistance.
Shaun says that this resulted from factors such as delivering lambs in advance of completing other tasks on the farm to ensure no difficulties occurred or delivery of lambs to address mismothering or where it was not clear how long a ewe may have been trying to lamb.
On a litter size basis, single-litter lambs averaged 6.1kg, while twins averaged 5.8kg and multiples 4.8kg
There was a further 25.2% of lambs, which required slight assistance, leading to just over 5% of lambs requiring significant assistance.
The Sheep Ireland lambing report also shows the average birthweight of all lambs recorded at 5.7kg (5.9kg for males and 5.5kg for females).
On a litter size basis, single-litter lambs averaged 6.1kg, while twins averaged 5.8kg and multiples 4.8kg. The heaviest lamb born was 8.9kg while the lightest lamb born was 1.9kg.
While the requirement to intervene more often did increase supervision requirements Shaun says the upshot of this was that it lent itself to more cross-fostering between triplet and single-bearing ewes with 20 lambs recorded as being cross-fostered.
There were just nine lambs being reared artificially up to the end of last week.
This increased to just over 20 this week following the removal of lambs from yearling hoggets not deemed fit to rear two lambs.
Also, a few lambs were brought back in from the field from ewes suffering from issues such as mastitis or being light on milk yield on one side.
Shaun says: “If a yearling hogget is under pressure, neither that ewe hogget nor her lambs will perform well.
“I have seen cases where you might chance letting one off with two lambs and it is usually those hoggets that end up getting mastitis or losing lambs. I would rather have a pen full of pets than be looking at a dead yearling and her lamb.”
We have had very little problems with lambing difficulty or poor mothering ability
Shaun is happy with the performance of yearling hoggets and is leaning towards this being a better option than incorporating two-tooth hoggets into the flock.
“There are a few things that stand out with them. We have had very little problems with lambing difficulty or poor mothering ability and where we have had hoggets lambing as two-year-olds that have been lambed as yearlings and run dry, I have found the yearlings to be better mothers and typically having more milk.
“The secret though is they need to be well grown at lambing and they have to get good care from breeding right up until joining the ram in the subsequent breeding season.”
Analysis will be carried out post-weaning as to the performance of yearlings and the cost of incorporating them into the flock.
Hoggets will be supplemented with 0.5kg of concentrates for five to six weeks of lactation and lambs will be offered creep up until weaning.
The farm is in a tricky position with grass supplies. Demand has increased sharply over the last two weeks and depleted grass reserves with the average farm cover dropping to in the region of 500kg DM/ha.
Shaun says rain at the weekend has brought a noticeable boost with swards greening up.
Demand is continuing to increase with more stock being turned outdoors and will also jump sharply this week to 45kg to 50kg DM/ha with the planned closure of 24.28ha (60 acres) of silage ground.
As such, it is vital that grass growth increases in line with demand. Two rounds of nitrogen has now been applied with 65 units applied to date on grazing ground.
Grazing groups are being formed with a batch of 60 ewes and 120 lambs transferred to the Cloonagh land block at the weekend. These will be grazed with a batch of 45 cows and their calves.
The plan is to move another batch down this week to graze with the remaining cows and calves.