The workload has stepped up a couple of gears on the farm at Tynan Abbey, Co Armagh, with Kate and Peter busy with preparations for the upcoming breeding season. Just what date the rams will go out with the ewes has yet to be finalised, but should be decided in the week ahead.
During spring 2022, all 500 breeding ewes and replacements lambed down in April, most of which lambed outside. While it was an extremely intense period from a labour point of view, it worked well and may well be repeated again in spring 2023.
Ewes and lambs went straight to grass and Kate and Peter were able to rely on additional help. There were also cost savings with purchased feed.
Prior to 2021, ewes were lambed in two groups, one of which lambed indoors in February to March and the second group lambing outside in April.
This autumn, there are approximately 500 ewes going out with the ram. Around 300 ewes are Suffolk cross Cheviot breeding and these animals tend to lamb indoors, then slip straight out to grass.
The remainder of the mature ewes are Romney breeding, with 203 ewes and hoggets to be mated, plus 74 Romney and Romney/Lleyn ewe lambs.
Romney breeding has been used on the farm for a number of years now and these animals are usually lambed outdoors from April onwards.
Rams will run with the ewes for approximately four weeks, which for April lambing will mean flock sires go out around 1 November.
Final breeding draft
There will be a final cull of ewes deemed not suitable for breeding with potentially 20 to 25 ewes to be removed. There was a tight culling of ewes back at weaning for problems such as bad udders, feet and rearing light lambs. Any ewes culled now will mostly be for traits like age, feet and lack of body condition.
All rams are sound for breeding and no new sires have joined the flock this autumn. Rams that will go to ewes include Suffolk and Lleyn. Ewe lambs retained for breeding will also get a final weighing and anything over 50kg liveweight will run with the ram. Anything below 50kg will not be bred.
Ewes have been treated for internal parasites in preparation for breeding and foot bathed. Vaccination is also up to-date in terms of toxoplasmosis and enzootic abortion control.
All breeding females received a mineral bolus at the start of September to boost fertility levels before joining the rams. Ewes have also been vaccinated with footvax after consulting with the farm’s vet, as there have been issues in the past to contend with.
In recent weeks, Kate and Peter have had recurring problems with lambs and ewes being hit by blowfly.
The flock was treated for external parasites back in July, but a follow-up treatment has now been administered to keep on top of the problem.
Last week, all ewe lambs were shorn to try and keep fleeces clean and reduce the problems associated with flies.
Prior to 2022, Kate and Peter had operated a split lambing period before moving to 100% of ewes lambing in April.
A big knock-on effect of the shift in lambing date this year was the way grass was managed.
With later lambing, there was a lot more spring grass in front of ewes. This allowed a bigger area to be harvested as first-cut silage and ultimately helped maintain grass quality in early summer.
However, on the flip side, the later lambing date means there are more lambs on-farm during September.
This has put the grazing platform under pressure at a time when grass covers should be building before breeding starts in October.
There have been lambs drafted for slaughter, with 142 animals sold to-date, along with 281 lambs sold live as stores. The store lambs weighed in the region of 17kg half-weight when sold.
Lambs were sold as stores because grass was scarce and therefore, concentrate feeding would have been required to push animals to reach the correct fat cover and target drafting weight.
At the price of concentrates, Kate and Peter felt there would not be the economic return based on the market value in the store ring, plus the time period required to finish lambs.
There are still 288 lambs on-farm that are expected to be directly offloaded for slaughter within the next two weeks, along with 11 stores still to be sold.
Once these animals are sold, it will ease the pressure on grazing for the rest of the year. However, grass covers are unlikely to sustain ewes on-farm all winter.
Therefore, 50% of ewes will move to winter grazing and this will allow some fields to be closed off at some point to save grass for lambing next spring.
The ewes will move to a neighbouring farm, as in previous years, then be brought home for scanning in January.
500 breeding ewes.
100 ewe lamb replacements.
25 suckler cows.