With mating time on the Teagasc BETTER sheep farms looming quickly, particularly for lowland flocks, preparations are well under way.

A key part is ensuring that ewes are thoroughly checked, removing any remaining cull ewes. This work has been taking place since weaning, alongside identifying and marking under-conditioned ewes.

Thin ewes at weaning are not an issue, but thin ewes that fail to regain body condition before mating can be, hence it is important that under-thin ewes are marked, so that if they fail to regain condition prior to mating, they can be culled from the flock.

Failing to regain body condition during this period can indicate underlying issues that will probably prevent that ewe from performing for the rest of the year.

Most of the flocks in the programme remove the thinnest ewes from the main flocks for preferential feeding approximately eight to 10 weeks before mating.

In most cases, these ewes are being run with the ewe lambs in the run-up to mating to give them preferential access to good-quality grass.

The target for lowland ewes going to the ram is a body condition score (BCS) of 3.5 at mating. However, averages can be dangerous and hide problems if there is a wide range of scores within a flock.

Another way to look at it is to focus on reducing the number of thin ewes or reduce to the minimum the number of ewes less than BCS 3.0 at mating time, as these ewes are the ones most likely to underperform throughout the production season.

The variation that can be observed within flocks can be seen in Table 1, where flocks with similar average BCS from mating can have a variation in the number of ewes falling below BCS 3.0 at mating.

This process of addressing condition eight to 10 weeks pre-mating has been shown to consistently improve ewe BCS at mating time.

An example of this is presented in Table 2, for a flock that went from not identifying and dealing with thin ewes prior to mating to introducing a plan similar to the one described earlier and this has significantly improved the flock’s BCS at mating over the last three seasons.

For those who haven’t done this yet, it is better late than never.

For flocks not mating until mid- to late October, there is still a number of weeks to try to correct some BCS issues prior to mating, but it typically takes eight to 10 weeks for a ewe to regain one full body condition score.

Hill flocks

For the hill flocks in the programme, mating is not quite as close on the horizon, but it is still beginning to come into focus.

Ewe BCS is every bit as big a focus for hill flocks as it is for the other flocks and it has been consistently shown that ewe BCS at mating has a huge influence on pregnancy rates in hill ewes.

While grass will be limited on these farms, it should be prioritised towards ewes at this time of the year and at mating, as opposed to lambs which, where grass supplies are limited, should be sold as stores.

The hill flocks in the programme weaned their lambs during August and a summary of the weights is presented in Table 3.

Lamb performance to weaning was good across the flocks and comparatively good store lamb prices has seen a lot of the flocks sell their lambs as stores this year, as opposed to finishing lambs on farm.

This decision is very much an individual one for each farm and will depend on grass supplies, facilities available for finishing lambs on the farm and what prices are available for selling store lambs.

A typical store lamb budget can be calculated using the Teagasc store lamb calculator at www.teagasc.ie.