Sheep management: replacements, lambs and hoggets
This week's notes cover selection of flock replacements, drafting lambs, management of yearling hoggets and Sheep 2018 Farm to Fork.

Selecting replacements

The ideal scenario where replacements are being selected from within the flock is where lambs have already been identified. Mid-season flocks will be starting to wean and draft lambs in greater frequency and where replacements have not been identified it is important to act quickly so that the most suitable replacements can be retained. It is advisable to initially select a higher number than is required so that further drafting of lambs that perform below what is anticipated can take place at a later date.

Yearling hoggets

Lactating yearling hoggets have had a pretty tough year in many flocks, with twin-suckling hoggets facing the greatest challenge. It is important to monitor the condition of hoggets and where body condition is a concern then early weaning is likely to be the best option. This will afford these animals a longer recovery period to regain condition ahead of this season’s breeding.

Remember also that it can take lactating hoggets longer to develop natural immunity to worms and therefore these animals should also be included in the farm’s worm control programme. It is also important to note that a change from hot weather to wet warm weather is likely to generate a spike in worm larvae numbers.

Drafting lambs

Lamb performance has benefited from higher temperatures and has been maximised where steps have been taken to keep on top of grass quality. A decision facing many farmers in the coming weeks is if it is worth drafting at a lower weight than normal for the final draft pre-weaning. This is related to lamb performance and the kill-out rate typically receiving a check from weaning and falling by 1% to 2%. Good-quality lambs will achieve an average killout of 47% to 48%, with creep-fed lambs potentially higher and lambs post-weaning generally killing 45% to 47%. The degree of the check in performance can be limited by having a source of top-quality grass available for lambs and clover swards are particularly beneficial.

Where there is a high percentage of lambs on the verge of reaching drafting weights, some farmers are considering delaying weaning with a good supply of grass present. This can be best carried out where lambs can graze ahead of ewes and ewes can be used to graze down swards. Delaying weaning for too long will only serve to hit performance and can also leave the interval for ewes to recover before next season’s breeding tight.

Sheep2018 Farm to Fork listings

Exhibitors interested in participating in the upcoming major event, Sheep2018 Farm to Fork taking place on 7 July in Mellows Campus Athenry, Galway, need to make immediate contact to be included in the event proceedings.

Entries received after noon on Friday 15 June will not be included in the official programme. Exhibitors can contact 091-845 274 or email sheep2018@teagasc.ie for more information on commercial exhibits.

Sheep management: lamb presentation, ordering tags and straw requirements
This week's notes cover lamb presentation, ordering tags in light of last week's announcement on EID and calculating the farm's straw requirement.

Lamb presentation

The way animals are presented can have a big bearing on the final sale value and this is the case across all classes.

Mart managers continually highlight uniformity in the animals on offer as being one of the most important factors influencing potential customers.

Looking at breeding sales first, managers explain that uniformity of breed is the first element generally assessed as buyers usually have a preference on breed type and steer away from mixed lots.

One or two poor-quality lots included in a pen of good-quality animals is also another factor that will limit the number of interested customers.

There are more farmers practising a hogget replacement system purchasing ewe lambs and carrying over to the following season.

Many of these buyers are looking for as straightforward a system as possible and this includes ewe lambs with breeding potential being electronically tagged. General presentation such as dagging dirty tail-ends will also pay dividends.

With regards store lambs, the most important factors highlighted by mart managers are grouping lambs into a uniform batch on weight, condition and gender.

Ideally, the range in weight should be no greater than 3kg to 5kg, while the strongest demand is for lambs grouped on gender or in mixed batches of ewes and wethers where terminal-bred lambs are of a similar type with most store lamb buyers opting away from mixed lots of rams and ewe lambs, resulting in lower prices.

Ordering tags

There is some confusion around what exactly last week’s announcement on EID means for farmers ordering tags for lambs and what changes it has for sheep traded after 1 October 2018.

The only change coming into play on 1 October 2018 relates to the type of tags available with farmers after this date no longer in a position to purchase permanent tags or existing slaughter tags.

Farmers will still be able to use a single slaughter tag for animals less than 12 months of age leaving the holding of birth for direct slaughter and a single permanent tag for lambs traded in mart or farm-to-farm movements until 1 June 2019, when mandatory electronic tagging is introduced across the entire flock.

You should assess the number of tags on hand before making additional orders between now and 1 October and only order a volume of tags that you think will realistically be used.

Straw supplies

Lower volumes available and increased demand has made it harder for farmers to source straw. It is worthwhile to act early and calculate the volume of bales that will be required and, also, if alternative plans can be put in place easily to reduce demand. Build in at least a minimum requirement for lambing and a small reserve.

A lowland ewe requires about 7kg straw per week with hill ewes requiring 4kg to 5kg straw per week or for a quick calculation, a 4 x 4 bale weighing 150kg will bed about 20 lowland ewes or 30 to 35 hill ewes for a week.

Consider the weight of straw in bales when doing the sums. Standard 4x4 round bales weigh about 150kg/160kg but this can vary from 130kg in poorly packed bales to 180kg.

In terms of 8x4x4 square bales, they weigh about 550kg to 580kg but again this can vary from 480kg to 600kg when packed better, while 8x4x3 bales weigh about 370kg to 420kg.

Sheep management: tagging, creep feeding and quarantine
This week's notes cover the best practice for tagging sheep, adhering to the creep feeding measure under the sheep welfare scheme and implementing a robust quarantine procedure.

Best practice when tagging

Tagging is hitting the headlines this week following Minister Creed’s announcement of the delay in implementation of mandatory electronic tagging across all sheep until 1 June 2019, along with a number of other changes. The coming weeks will see a spike in the number of animals being tagged with store lamb trading increasing in intensity while factory throughput is likely to hit its peak weekly throughput for the Eid al-Adha festival.

Retention rates in ear tags can be improved by applying tags at the optimum site on the animal’s ear; applying tags at the correct site will also cut down on the risk of infection. The optimum position is generally one third of the way out from the animal’s head as it is the strongest part of the ear and holds a reduced chance of getting caught. This may be further out in breeds with thicker ears as it is important not to apply tags where movement and airflow around the tag will be totally curtailed. The tag should be applied midway in height but take care to feel where the two main veins are and avoid these. This will require animals to be restrained adequately and care should always be taken to apply tags in hygienic conditions.

Sheep welfare scheme

Some hill farmers have asked for the requirements for the measure of creep-feeding lambs pre-weaning to be repeated. The recommended concentrate supplementation level detailed for the scheme follows a rising scale starting at 75g per head daily in week one, increasing to 125g in week two, 175g in week three and 250g in week four. This gives a minimum input per lamb of 4.4kg over a four-week period. All lambs in the flock must be meal-fed for the four weeks but feeding dates can be split where there is an age gap between lambs and more than one weaning date.

Feed receipts must be maintained for inspection and inspectors can also investigate feeding points for evidence of feeding. Feed purchase receipts can also be cross-referenced to dispatch documents to ensure feeding was continued for the required period. Farmers should also take this opportunity to ensure other measures selected are up-to-date and recorded in the scheme booklet, including the lameness measure, parasite control (including carrying out a faecal egg count or counts) and prevention of blowfly strike.

Quarantine procedure

Breeding sales are taking place in greater intensity while trading of store lambs has also stepped up a notch. The risk of bringing disease into a flock will be determined by the known health status of the flock from which the animals are coming and the quarantine procedure that is put in place. There are several important aspects that should be in a good quarantine procedure. Anthelmintic resistance is a growing concern with resistance identified to white, yellow and clear drenches. The latest advice is to treat animals with a moxidectin-based product and the recently released wormer Zolvix. Sheep should be treated on arrival and kept off pasture for 24 to 48 hours to prevent eggs passing on to pasture. Animals should also be checked for any signs of lameness and foot-bathed while other issues to take into account are external parasites and the presence of liver fluke. A vaccination protocol should also be implemented.

Sheep management: catch crops and reseeding
This week's management notes cover grazing catch crops with sheep and reseeding.

Catch crops

It is worth assessing winter feed budgets now to anticipate a potential fodder deficit. If a deficit in supplies is predicted, all options to fill the void should be considered. The prolonged dry weather may have had a lot of bad consequences this year for crop growth, be it grass or cereals, especially in the south and east of the country. However, ground conditions are excellent for sowing catch crops on recently harvested cereal ground. The past number of years, sowing such crops has been difficult because cereal crop harvests were later or protracted due to challenging harvesting conditions or ground was too wet to establish the catch crop. Conditions are very different this year.

A lot of tillage farmers in GLAS are required to grow catch crops for the scheme. Up to 25,000ha have been sown in the past. Tillage farmers with suitable catch crops may be open to entering into a deal to graze them off – it’s all about initiating the conversation now to secure supply.

Ground fenced for sheep will work best but temporary fencing can also work. Some sheep farmers may opt to grow a crop themselves, especially for finishing lambs. If planning on growing a crop, the earlier you do so, the better. For grazing crops, high-yield species are best and can grow in excess of 5t DM/ha.

Good seedbed preparation is essential for the typically small seeds to establish in the soil. Likewise, good soil fertility is crucial, otherwise crop performance could be disappointing. Soil tests should be taken into account but typically three bags of 10-10-20 per acre at sowing is sufficient with the balance of nitrogen applied post-establishment.

Sowing method comes down to preference. Direct drilling and one-pass systems work well where there is not much trash from the previous crop. Disc or tine harrows and fertiliser spreaders can be used to sow crops too. Once sowed, it should be rolled in to leave a firm seedbed. Typical establishment costs including seed, fertiliser and machinery expenses range from €90 to €110/acre.

Reseeding

This week’s Focus centres on reseeding. The dry weather forecast for the weekend offers ideal conditions for carrying out a reseeding job. Before buying seed, take some time choosing the best varieties to use. The recommended grass variety list (published north and south) should be the starting point. These varieties have been tried and tested in Irish conditions and have predicted performance. Selection of grass varieties will have to take account of heading date and cultivar choice. In general, diploid varieties should make up about 60% to 70% of the grass seed mix, balanced with 30% to 40% tetraploid varieties.

It is best not to have a range in heading dates of more than seven days. This will ensure grass quality and ease of management. Adopting this approach will generally mean selecting a mix containing some late-heading intermediate varieties and late-heading varieties.

Late-heading varieties head in the first half of June, are characterised by high tiller densities, exhibit good ground cover, and are well suited to long-term grazing pastures. Late varieties produce good-quality silage cuts in early June and late July, and are leafy in mid-summer. While their spring growth may not be as good as for intermediates they are more suited to long-term sheep-grazing systems.