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 for more information on commercial exhibits.

Animal welfare campaigners protest against live exports
The advocacy group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) staged a demonstration outside the GPO in Dublin this Saturday.

The protest was part of an international campaign organised by UK-based CIWF in several countries this week.

It gave rise to a debate on RTÉ Radio 1's show Countrywide on Saturday morning. Campaigner Caroline Rowley said that regulations on animal welfare during long-distance transport have been breached "regularly" for many years, with cases of breaks and food or water supply requirements not being observed.

She added that CIWF was not against farming but opposed live exports, which in her view absorbs small amounts of cattle and makes money only for a "small number of exporting companies".

Rowley added that according to data she obtained through a freedom of information request, one or two animals die on every shipment to Turkey, with pneumonia a common cause.

IFA livestock chair Angus Woods disagreed, saying that he had been on ships and lorries transporting cattle to Europe or the Middle East and found them to be operating to "the highest of standards".

"It's important for farmers to have positive competition within the marketplace," he added, with live exporters contributing to demand for their animals.

"The purchaser of the animal on the far side, be it in the Netherlands or Turkey, only wants to buy a happy, healthy animal," he said.

In a statement to Countrywide, the Department of Agriculture said: " The standards provided for in Irish legislation in relation to the approval of ships for livestock transport are higher than those which apply in other EU member states and are recognised by the EU Commission as being among the most effective and stringent legislation in force as regards the transport of animals by sea."

Department vets inspect ships and supervise loading operations, the statement added.

The Department is currently funding the World Organisation for Animal Health to support "capacity-building activities relating to the welfare of animals at the time of slaughter in third countries and long-distance transport".

Read more

Live exports of calves exceed 100,000 head

UK calls for evidence for potential live export ban

In pictures: exporting calves from Ireland to the Netherlands

Turkish trade in focus

Weighing up the best approach to weaning lambs
With weaning of early mid-season born lambs set to begin in greater frequency in the coming weeks, a question is often asked on what is the best weaning procedure.

The two types of weaning practised on farms are gradual and abrupt. Farmers find merits in both systems. Gradual weaning, where a number of ewes are removed from the flock in stages, tends to reduce stress. Fewer lambs are unsettled and those that are stressed generally settle quicker.

The downside here is where ewes and lambs are grazing poor-quality swards, with performance in weaned lambs hit harder. There is also a labour component in flocking animals, but many combine this with weighing and drafting lambs, which balances this.

Abrupt weaning

In abrupt weaning, all lambs are separated from ewes in one go. This can lead to higher stress levels at first, but lambs generally settle quickly. Disruption is minimised where lambs have access to high-quality leafy swards, which also limits any setback in performance. It is important to note that in the latter option good fencing is needed, with lambs taking longer to settle.

Once ewes have been weaned, the mistake is frequently made of failing to take remedial action quickly enough with those that have lost excessive weight during lactation

The other factor that will influence the decision made is grass supplies available. The high growth rates in recent weeks saw a lot of surplus paddocks being taken out of the rotation and baled. Farmers in many parts of the country have made this move and have now gone a few weeks without rain and are finding that growth has slowed up considerably. This is especially evident in swards which have been cut for silage, with crops where a heavier cut was taken taking longer to recover. In such cases, abrupt weaning will work better than gradual weaning as the best grass available can be prioritised to lambs.

Tightening up ewes on bare pastures or using them to graze out paddocks will deliver benefits in helping ewes to cease producing milk while giving a chance for grass supplies to recover. Farmers in such a situation should continue to apply fertiliser, with forecast rain likely to deliver a significant boost in growth rates.

Weaning is also the ideal time to identify ewes with conditions such as pendulous udders or lumps in their udder. Once ewes have been weaned, the mistake is frequently made of failing to take remedial action quickly enough with those that have lost excessive weight during lactation. Farmers are reporting a big variation in this regard.

Nutritional stress

Ewes that lambed early and were in greater nutritional stress in cases suffered a drop in milk yield and apportioned more nutritional intake in late lactation towards maintenance and regaining condition. Other ewes which were milking strong are showing the effects of the challenging spring. Once dry, ewes which lost excessive condition should be prioritised and allowed access to better-quality grazing to regain condition while ewes requiring maintenance feeding can be used to graze out paddocks and improve quality of regrowth.

Read more

Sheep management: replacements, lambs and hoggets

Sheep grazing: it’s all about keeping it fresh