The challenge facing farmers due to elevated fertiliser prices was apparent at a Teagasc sheep farm walk held on the farm of PJ Finnerty, Brideswell, Co Roscommon on Tuesday evening.

About half the farmers attending had not applied any fertiliser yet, with a significant number still to purchase supplies.

Teagasc Business & Technology Advisor Noel Mannion cautioned that where farmers have an annual requirement for fertiliser, moving to a situation of not applying any fertiliser will have serious repercussions on grass supplies.

This in turn, he said, will limit ewe milk yield potential, possibly trigger health issues such as mastitis, and will have significant negative consequences on lamb performance and normal drafting patterns.

He advised farmers to at least apply fertiliser on fields that will achieve a good response. This includes areas with adequate soil pH and phosphorus/potassium levels and reseeded or young swards that also have a high nitrogen requirement to safeguard persistency.

Noel said that a better option to consider for many sheep farmers might be targeting lime applications to soils which are deficient in pH, P and K.

An investment of €50 to €60 in applying 2t lime / acre was highlighted as a better proposition now for these soils, compared to applying a bag of fertiliser costing upwards of €50 per bag and achieving a variable response.

Teagasc researcher Phil Creighton advised farmers to be mindful of the cost per unit of nitrogen in different types of fertiliser. He said that the cost per unit of nitrogen in protected urea for example is far less than the cost of a unit of nitrogen in compound fertilisers.

An example using protected urea with a product such as Pasture Sward was used on the evening. In order to deliver the same level of nitrogen as 11kg of protected urea, 18kg of the compound fertiliser is required.

Many farmers may be in a position to forego P and K application in 2022, meaning that a higher volume of nitrogen can be purchased by focusing on straight nitrogen fertilisers over compound products.

Clostridial diseases

The threat of clostridial diseases will be rising for lambs approaching seven to eight weeks of age where maternally derived antibodies are waning.

Artificially reared lambs are also in a high risk category for suffering clostridial disease due to the probability of lower levels of colostrum being consumed.

As such, vaccination should take place long before the typical timeframe of lambs aged eight to ten weeks of age. One dose will deliver a low level of protection, with a booster shot required to achieve optimum protection.

Lambs can be vaccinated from three weeks of age onwards, as at this stage it will not interfere with maternally derived antibodies.

Scald in lambs

There have been more reports of scald in young lambs at an earlier stage of the season. Treatment options will depend on the age of lambs.

While footbathing is the best option, it is only really a runner with lambs aged upwards of five to six weeks of age.

The best option for younger lambs is likely to be individual treatment with an aerosol spray. Addressing issues promptly will help to stop them spreading to a higher number of lambs.