Pregnancy scanning in the Tullamore Farm sheep flock was recently recorded at an average of 1.80 lambs per mature ewe and hogget joined.

The litter size is 0.11 lambs lower than the 2022/2023 season, which is due in part to a higher barren rate of 6.07%, with 13 of the 214 ewes scanning empty and a lower litter size in suckled 2022-born hoggets.

The barren rate is 1.5% higher than last year and comes after a breeding season just shy of six weeks.

Table 1 details a breakdown of scanning performance over the last seven seasons and splits out hoggets from mature ewes. As can be readily seen, the average litter size in hoggets was recorded at 1.57 lambs per ewe joined.

Litter size

This is 0.22 lambs lower than in 2022/2023. The barren rate is only one ewe higher across the batch of 51 hoggets and thus is not responsible for this scale of a reduction.

As detailed in Table 2, the number of hoggets scanned carrying twin lambs works out at 41.2%, with 48% twin-bearing hoggets.

In recent years, this ratio has been in the region of 18% to 27% single-bearing ewes to 70% to 77% twin-bearing ewes.

The majority of these hoggets reared lambs as yearling hoggets, and it is likely that the challenging year had knock-on consequences.

This tallies with Teagasc research, which shows that where yearling hoggets rearing lambs face continual challenges in terms of nutritional stress, it is likely to have knock-on consequences on fertility.

Hoggets received preferential treatment and were run as a separate batch, but even still, the continual nature of challenges in 2023 can be seen.

Ewe lambs

Scanning performance in ewe lambs was positive, with ewe lambs recording an average litter size of 1.32 lambs per ewe joined.

The in-lamb rate in this group was 1.46 lambs, with just four lambs scanning empty after a breeding period of about four weeks. This is largely in line with previous years as detailed in Table 1.

Breed type

A quick overview of barren ewes shows nine empty Mule ewes, three Texel-cross and a Suffolk-cross empty hogget.

The majority of empty Mule ewes are older ewes, with three ewes born as far back as 2014 to 2016. The flock has been expanding and growing numbers in recent years, and the focus has been on retaining ewes with a good mouth and breeding potential.

If flock numbers were settled, then these ewes would have been previously drafted for sale. A handful of empty Mule ewes were also 2018-born.

There are still a dozen Mule ewes aged from 2015 to 2017 in the flock, and another 20 born in 2018 and 2019.

The litter size in older Mule ewes scanned in lamb is high as one would expect at an average of 2.28 lambs. This includes 35% triplet-bearing ewes.

There was no discernible difference in the scanning rate between first-cross Texel x Mule ewes and first-cross Suffolk x Mule ewes.

The scanning rate here averaged in the region of 1.87 to 1.88 lambs per ewe joined, which is what one could expect from this breed mix, ie, first-cross progeny from Mule ewes would be expected to scan 0.1 to 0.15 lambs lower than their prolific dams.

There was also no significant difference in the scanning rate in the hogget ewes carrying a lower litter size.

Easycare flock

As mentioned in previous articles, the breeding programme on Tullamore Farm has taken a change in direction, with the purchase of Mule replacements finishing and a small flock of Easycare sheep now being run on the farm.

There were a number of factors behind the decision.

The Mule ewe has been a mainstay on the farm since the project began, so it is now time, mid-way through the lease, to try a new venture.

Questions regarding the merits of the Easycare breed have continually been raised and the farm is in a position to investigate and possibly answer some of these questions.

The average scanning rate across the flock of 44 sheep was recorded at 1.71 lambs per ewe joined for mature ewes and hoggets. The scanning rate in mature ewes was two lambs per ewe, while the scanning rate in hoggets was 1.45 lambs per ewe joined.

These hoggets also reared lambs as yearling hoggets and it is also important to note that the sample size is small.

Scanning in Easycare ewe lambs was relatively good, with lambs averaging 1.29 per ewe lamb mated.