Safeguarding breeding

Another week of heavy rainfall has compounded issues at farm level, with farmers in many areas struggling to achieve any decent level of grass utilisation.

Grass supplies are depleting fast on many farms, with the greatest challenges faced in breeding flocks where there is still a significant percentage of this year’s lamb crop on farm.

Priority must now be given to breeding females in terms of allocating remaining grass.

Lambs should be assessed and categorised on weight to see what the best options are. Some farmers in more marginal areas have housed forward lambs because they have the best potential response to intensive feeding indoors and minimising input costs.

For light lambs it is important to do the figures to see what the best route to market is. The longer lambs can be kept outdoors to mature and develop a frame, the better the prospects will be of generating a margin from intensive finishing.

The store lamb market has been under pressure in recent weeks, and a finishing budget should be completed to see what the best outlet is. The Teagasc store lamb calculator is a useful tool in this regard.

Clean livestock policy

The level of issues reported to-date is relatively low, but they are on the rise. Issues are seen mostly with clay soiling of the fleece where lambs are congregating around ad-lib feeders or passing from field to field through mucky gateways.

There are also significant issues where lambs are loaded wet with a belly full of low dry matter grass or dirty tail-ends, with the potential here for fleeces to become soiled rapidly during transit.

Factories report the greatest issues with sheep which are loaded straight from the field with soaked fleeces.

They advise that any opportunity that can be taken to try and draft sheep during a break in weather will pay dividends in giving them greater options to work with sheep presented in a less than ideal manner.

Housing lambs in advance of slaughtering will help and making the most of a break in weather to house sheep, if possible, will reduce the length of time it takes for fleeces to dry somewhat.

Keeping underfoot conditions reasonably clean is also challenging, and a suitable absorbent material such as wood shavings should be used when transporting animals.

Ram management

Current weather is hard on all sheep and is especially challenging on ram lambs that are covering large areas or joined with significant numbers of sheep.

Once the desired breeding period has passed it is important to remove rams promptly, as they will struggle to recover condition if left with ewes even where mating activity has reduced to a low level.

There is merit in offering concentrates for a period if rams have lost excessive condition. Concentrates are expensive but even at €500/t, a 25kg bag offered at a rate of 400g/day will last about two months. The €12.50 spent is a good outlay to safeguard your investment.

Forage crops: Sheep are also being turned on to forage crops in higher numbers. It is important that sheep have access to a grass run-back or supplementary feed to transition to their new diet. It is recommended to allocate about 30% of the diet in the form of grass, hay/straw and concentrates.