Last week, the NI Sheep programme farmers tuned in to a webinar with Co Down sheep farmer Crosby Cleland on maximising output per hectare.
Crosby runs one of several technology demonstration farms across Northern Ireland in a programme facilitated by CAFRE which showcases best practice within different areas of livestock production.
On Crosby’s farm, the focus is on grassland management. The farm extends to 74ha, with 850 ewes put to the ram in autumn 2020.
Ewe types are maternal composite breeds such as Highlander and Aberfield-cross animals, along with Lleyn ewes.
Flock sires include Lleyn, Highlander and Aberfield rams, along with terminal breeds such as Primera and New Zealand Suffolk.
Ewes are bred using single-sire mating, with breeding groups of 100 ewes/ram and all aspects of flock performance is recorded using EID.
Lambing starts around 1 March, with peak lambing from 6 to 16 March, during which approximately 60 ewes will lamb every day.
Lambing is finished inside four weeks, as rams run with ewes for less than two cycles during the breeding period.
All ewes were housed after scanning at the outset of the year. Scanning rates vary from 188% to 211% in mature ewes, depending on breed type.
However, while scanning is important, Crosby places greater emphasis on lambs weaned per ewe mated, as this is actual flock output.
Ewes are fed silage at housing. Silage is analysed every year and the 2020 fodder has an energy value of 11.8 ME and 74.4 D-value
The flock averages 1.74 lambs/ewe going out to the field, with 1.54 lambs reared across mature ewes and hoggets.
Mortality is typically 7% annually. The majority of lambs that die are triplets, with a high rate of loss to predators at grass.
Ewes are fed silage at housing. Silage is analysed every year and the 2020 fodder has an energy value of 11.8 ME and 74.4 D-value.
High-quality silage means concentrate was only introduced to twin-bearing ewes last week, two weeks before lambing starts.
Singles get concentrate within a few days of lambing, while triplets get supplementary feed three weeks pre-lambing.
Ewes go to grass around four to five days after lambing. Ewes are rotationally grazed in groups of 100 (plus lambs) on 2ac paddocks, with animals moved every third day.
Grass growth is measured weekly. The farm grew 7t DM/ha in 2020, down from 12.5t DM/ha in 2019.
A 10-week drought through April, May and early June hit grass growth hard last year.
Stocking rate is 16 ewes/ha, or 400kg liveweight/acre. Mature ewes weigh 60kg to 65kg, which allows for higher stocking densities.
The farm carried Suffolk and Texel-cross ewes in the past. Mature ewe weight was closer to 90kg, which meant a lower stocking rate and less output per hectare of land owned.
The farm is selling 341kg of carcase weight per hectare farmed. Average lamb carcase weight is 19.1kg, with kill-out ranging from 42% to 50%. Conformation is 70% R grading and 23% U grading.
Single lambs are normally killed during July and August, with a maximum of £3.50/head (€4/head) concentrate consumed.
Gross margin for the farm is £821/ha
Single lambs in 2020 grew at 380g/day to slaughter. Twin lambs grew at 280g/day and 98% of lambs are gone by the start of November.
From September onwards, concentrate levels increase to ad-lib, with meal costs at £1/week (€1.15) per lamb.
Gross margin for the farm is £821/ha (€941) with cost of production, including full labour costs, at £4.20/kg (€4.82).
Mixed species swards
One-third of the farm is soil-sampled annually, with lime applied to paddocks below pH 6.2.
Around 5ha/year is reseeded, with Crosby now using mixed species swards including clover, chicory and plantain.
Nitrogen is applied in March
Fields have not been ploughed in 10 years. Instead, reseeding is carried out by stitching methods, keeping weeds under control.
The farm uses 18t of fertiliser per year across the 74ha.
Nitrogen is applied in March, after which grass growth is driven by clover and nutrients recycled through sheep dung and urine.
Soils are low in iodine and selenium, so the flock is blood-sampled every September and January. In the past, mineral drenches have been used, but the flock is now given a bolus as necessary.
Crosby also outlined problems with coccidiosis in recent years. This is now treated using Deccox in creep feeders, which is introduced to lambs around four weeks of age.
This cost closer to £1,000 (€1,150) and required regular handling to administer
According to Crosby, it cost an additional £450 (€517) last year to feed Deccox through feeders, but this was recouped with lambs slaughtered 35 days earlier compared with previous years.
Prior to this, lambs were drenched. This cost closer to £1,000 (€1,150) and required regular handling to administer. The flock is also vaccinated against foot rot at a cost of £2/ewe (€2.30).
Pre-lambing management webinar
On Thursday 4 March, the programme will hold a webinar focusing on pre-lambing management on James McCay’s farm, Co Tyrone, starting at 8pm.
James runs upland and hill flocks split evenly over 270 ewes. Ewes were housed in mid-February for pre-lambing feeding, with lambing itself due to start in late March.
Part of the discussion will focus on flock health on farm, including routine treatments and responsible use to prevent resistance building up in the flock.
The webinar is open to everyone. Register your interest at www.ifj/sheepevent before 5pm Wednesday 3 March. Log-in details will be emailed before the event.