Drafting lambs

There are varying reports from factory agents regarding the weight of spring lambs, with overweight and underweight/underfleshed carcases an issue in equal measures.

Procurement agents are not concerned about the few niggling issues at the start of the season where a couple of lambs in a batch are out of spec, rather it is batches where the majority of lambs are out of spec.

With the high cost of concentrates and prices in excess of €8/kg it is wise to weigh and handle lambs regularly once they approach slaughter weight. Young, fleshed lambs will kill out at about 50%, with well-conformed lambs at the higher end topping 50% kill-out in some cases.

The performance of lambs on ad-lib concentrates can be well in excess of 300g/day but intake levels can also jump sharply to well above 1kg per head daily, heightening the importance of keeping fit lambs moving.

Market demand will also benefit from lower volumes of sheepmeat while the carcase trade has been performing positively over the last year and should be well serviced.

A poorer than anticipated kill-out is also catching out producers, with carcases falling below the optimum weight range of 18kg to 20.5kg. With current prices firm, it will pay to delay drafting until lambs are definitely fit for slaughter.

Grassland management

There is massive variation in the level of grass growth recorded in the last week. Farms that have applied close to normal levels of fertiliser and with young or reseeded swards have recorded growth rates ranging anywhere from 70kg to 100kg DM/ha, with paddocks with a strong cover really motoring after this week’s rain.

Such farms will have to act fast and introduce practices such as splitting paddocks and taking surplus grass out of the rotation. It is important to get surplus out quickly and harvested at the opportune time to get these areas back into the rotation, as the option of applying fertiliser to boost growth rates are not as feasible this year.

Farms that do not have much or any fertiliser applied are experiencing growth rates ranging from 25kg to 40kg DM/ha. If fertiliser applications are planned then it is important to get it applied quickly to get the greatest response. Price around if buying fertiliser as prices are easing back somewhat.

Muscle and fat scanning

The muscle and fat scanning service offered to breeders participating in Sheep Ireland’s LambPlus programme has returned. The move will see muscle and fat scanning reintroduced as an element in the Data Quality Index (DQI) for 2022.

Breeders wishing to participate must notify Sheep Ireland via email (ramsale@sheep.ie) before 20 May.

Ultrasound scanning information is used to predict carcase conformation and fat, which will increase the accuracy of evaluations. For lambs scanned between 121 and 180 days of age, the weight collected will count as a third lamb weight excluding the birth weight.

Lambs will also be scored for lameness, a dag score and body condition score, with these also contributing to the flock’s DQI. The cost of the service is €150 and covers 25 lambs. Each lamb above this is €2.50 per head until the 80th lamb and 50c/head thereafter.