With the lambing period approaching fast, this week we catch up with some of the programme farmers working in a lowland area to see how preparations are progressing.
Pregnancy scanning is coming to an end and last weekend’s snow has seen more sheep being housed to manage ewe nutrition in the runup to lambing time.
Reports from scanning technicians across Northern Ireland indicate a number of trends in breeding flocks this year.
First off, reports indicate positive scanning results across the board.
The most noticeable increase in lamb numbers has been in the mid-season flocks, with scanning results up 10% to 20% on last spring.
Early lambing flocks are scanning well, but results are generally similar to last year.
Scanning rates have been boosted where flock owners have culled hard on older and less-productive ewes last year.
These animals have been replaced with younger animals, primarily hoggets.
Paraic and his father Seamus lamb their mature ewes in two groups as housing space is limited. All ewes were scanned on 14 December and results are on par with last year.
Across 150 ewes, lambing percentage is 177%. Last year, lambing percentage was 175%. Scanning results break down to 45 ewes with single lambs, 95 sets of twins and 10 ewes carrying triplets.
There were 14 hoggets that scanned empty, but these animals were bred late and will be rescanned with the ewe lambs next week. All mature ewes are settled in lamb.
Suffolk and Mule ewes went to Texel rams, while the best Texel ewes went to a Belclare ram with the rest running to Suffolk rams.
Paraic did note that one ram has a lower scanning rate at 1.5 lambs/ewe compared with the other flock sires, which were more typically 1.8 lambs/ewe.
Ewes went to out to teaser rams before breeding and in the first lambing group of 85 ewes, 45 animals were served in the same week.
The first lambing group will start lambing around 5 February, with the next batch expected to start lambing three weeks later.
The first breeding group was housed this week. They were supplemented with silage outdoors and concentrates were introduced in the past week due to the arrival of snow and heavy frost.
Silage was analysed and has a D-value of 74% with 11.2 Mj ME. With such a high feed value, Paraic deliberately held off on supplementary concentrate feeding until now.
Paddocks have been closed off over winter to provide fresh grass for turnout after lambing.
Again, supplementary silage was introduced early to provide adequate fodder and allow paddocks to be closed.
On Mark’s farm, lambing is also split across two mature ewe groups plus a group of replacement ewe lambs.
Split lambing is mainly down to housing, as well as making the workload more manageable, as Mark is the primary labour unit on farm.
Mature ewes have been scanned and across 241 breeding females, lambing percentage is 187%. This breaks down to 52 singles, 163 twins and 22 triplets.
The first lambing group consists of 92 ewes and will start lambing in early February. These animals are housed for ease of feeding and management.
Concentrates were introduced to triplets two weeks ago, with twin-bearing ewes starting on meal last week.
Singles have yet to start eating supplementary concentrates and remain on a silage-only diet.
The second group of ewes has 149 animals which are mainly Texel and Suffolk breeding.
There were four animals scanning empty, with one animal seen in heat prior to Christmas. They will be scanned again with the ewe lambs.
These animals have been outside up until this week, but are now being housed as space permits. Concentrates are gradually being introduced when housed.
Ewes were scanned on Tuesday and lambing percentage is well up year on year.
Across the flock, 217 Suffolk Cheviot cross ewes scanned at 193% with nine animals empty, 33 singles, 141 ewes with twins, 33 sets of triplets and one set of quadruplets.
There were 84 Romney sheep scanned, with a lambing percentage of 201%. This breaks down to one empty animal, 13 singles, 54 sets of twins and 16 sets of triplets.
The flock also has 103 breeding hoggets which scanned at 180%. This leaves 68 ewe lambs to be scanned in two weeks time.
The 2021 scanning figures are well ahead of 2020 levels, which was 174% across all breeding ewes on farm.
The 103 hoggets are due to start lambing in February, whereas the mature ewes and ewe lambs will lamb closer to the end of March.
The plan now is to leave the Romney ewes outside at grass, along with ewes carrying single lambs.
Grass is getting scarce and ground is wet, so housing most of the flock now will ease the pressure on grazing ground and help covers to start building for spring.
Housed ewes will now be offered silage and concentrates, with feed rates dependent on lamb numbers and lambing date.