Grass supplies

There are hugely varying reports between and even within regions on grass growth rates and grass supplies. Growth rates have eased by 10kg DM/ha to 20kg DM/ha over the last week to 10 days.

This is leaving some farmers tighter on grass and is most evident on farms which took significant areas deemed surplus out of the rotation in recent weeks, or who greatly reduced the level of fertiliser applied.

It is important that steps are taken on these farms to bring grass supplies back on track and this includes applying fertiliser or reducing demand through timely weaning of lambs.

In contrast, some farms which did not take surplus areas out of the rotation or on lower stocked farms have witnessed grass quality becoming significantly harder to manage.

Steps that can underpin performance include avoiding forcing ewes and lambs to graze lower quality material and using dry hoggets or ewes once weaned to bring quality back.

Topping also has a role to play but be careful not to mow an excessive area of ground as this will also hit regrowth.

Weaning options

Flocks lambing from mid-February to early March are in the territory of weaning lambs. Abrupt and gradual weaning both have advantages and disadvantages and are influenced by farm circumstances and infrastructure.

Gradual weaning, whereby a number of ewes are removed from the flock in stages, tends to reduce stress levels as there are fewer lambs stressed and those that are typically settle quicker.

The downside to such an option is that ewes will continue to compete with lambs for the best-quality grass and in the absence of an abundant grass supply, the performance of weaned lambs will be compromised.

There is also a labour aspect in increased handling of animals. Abrupt weaning, where all lambs are separated from ewes in one go heightens stress levels initially but lambs typically settle quickly where grass supplies and fencing are adequate.

Whichever the method, it is essential that lambs are offered high quality grass and not forced to graze out paddocks where a butt of lower-quality material has accumulated at the base of the sward.

Problem ewes

This week’s Focus on animal health addresses the issue of mastitis in ewes. Many farmers tend to assess the health status of udders at weaning which is useful to detect issues such as pendulous udders or udders with lumps.

As detailed, udders which have lumps present is generally an indication of much greater issues deeper in the mammary gland.

There is sometimes a tendency to retain such ewes, particularly if they are good breeders, but there has never been a more attractive proposition to cull problem ewes with prices at record levels and pressure on input costs.

It is important to note that the weeks following weaning remain a high-risk period for mastitis establishing and spreading.

The greatest contributing factor here is due to environmental factors and namely poor standards of hygiene where ewes are housed temporarily.

Traditional practices of limiting the intake of ewes to aid in reducing milk yield to the point where ewes lose significant body condition should also be avoided as this is a poor use of feed resources and lost condition will cost significantly more to recover as the season progresses.