Grass growth challenges

The unusually low growth rates and harsh weather conditions are intensifying issues on farms struggling with a deficit in grass supplies. On the farms worst affected, lamb performance is coming under pressure. This is evident in growth rates stagnating and visibly through the fleece of lambs becoming dull, dry and grown out.

Where grass supplies are likely to remain tight for the foreseeable future, action needs to be taken. Once ewes have passed peak milk yield then the merits of offering high levels of supplementation to ewes reduces quickly, with a much better response achievable from offering creep to lambs.

Early weaning is also an option in flocks with split lambing dates. Lambs can be weaned as young as eight to 10 weeks of age provided they are consuming at least 250g concentrates on three consecutive days. Many of these flocks are approaching this milestone, with those born in early February at weaning stage. This will be determined by the volume of grass present and the level of concentrates being fed as lambs on an intensive creep diet may be approaching slaughter weight quickly.

Other issues to watch out for are a higher incidence of mastitis in young and aged ewes under the most nutritional stress, grass tetany and orf.

Mastitis issues

Treatment options for mastitis depend on the type present. Peracute or gangrenous mastitis is characterised by severe depression, ewes ceasing to eat, dehydration and a swollen mammary gland that turns from warm at the start of the infection to a blue discoloration. The affected mammary gland will often fall off in severe cases.

Acute mastitis is typified by a warm, swollen, red gland with normal or abnormal looking milk. Ewes are often seen walking lame as they try to avoid touching a painful udder with their leg. Two other forms are chronic mastitis and subclinical mastitis, both of which are hard to identify. One sign is lamb performance starting to dip or lambs suckling aggressively and continually. These can progress to the more serious forms described above. Antibiotic treatment is generally prescribed by your vet and in the case of multiple cases or an outbreak it is useful to submit a sample for laboratory analysis to determine the infectious agent and most appropriate treatment. Affected animals should be isolated while anti-inflammatory drugs will also help.

Precision livestock farming

Ireland is one of seven European countries including Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, Norway and the UK, along with Israel, to partake in a new EU-funded project named Sm@rt (Small Ruminant Technologies). The aim of Sm@rt is to increase awareness of those working in the sheep and goat sectors to new precision livestock farming (PLF) tools and to show their potential to improve productivity and labour efficiency while also exhibiting the possible return on investment. The lead researcher in Ireland is Dr Tim Keady, Teagasc Athenry. Tim is seeking the opinions of farmers and stakeholders on PLF tools. These opinions will be used by the project team to understand the main challenges, requirements and interests along the sheep and goat production chain. A survey to collate farmer and stakeholder feedback is available at and will remain live for one month.