Persistent rainfall and ground conditions deteriorating by the day are creating numerous challenges, from poor grass utilisation to poor performance and compliance issues with the clean livestock policy.

Housing lambs in current conditions will provide the potential for higher animal performance, but management needs to be first-rate in terms of feed management and keeping animals healthy.

A question which is cropping up quite a bit is the merit of shearing lambs once housed. Many farmers are querying if there are similar production benefits to shearing lambs as there are with ewes.

Teagasc trials carried out in Mellows Campus Athenry on finishing lambs indoors has looked extensively at this question, and all trials have shown no production benefits to shearing lambs in terms of daily liveweight gain.

Shearing lambs

The second question which is cropping up a bit is how long lambs need to be shorn before drafting for slaughter to be in a position of having sufficient wool regrowth to allow repeat-shearing if necessary, to comply with the clean livestock policy.

Teagasc carried out a short-term trial in October and November 2018 to assess the rate of wool regrowth across various areas of the fleece.

Clippings were taken on a weekly basis across the loin, shoulder and belly region with Scottish Blackface and lowland lambs (Texel, Suffolk and Charollais) included in the trial.

The results of the trial showed that for all breed types, four weeks’ regrowth was sufficient to allow lambs to be re-shorn if required pre-slaughter.

Where full-shearing is not taking place, then practices such as clipping belly wool or crutching the area around the tail head will all help in keeping sheep cleaner.

Shearing ewes

The low value of wool, relative to the cost of shearing, is certainly not going to entice many to shear ewes. However, there are a number of production benefits with shearing ewes that should be kept in mind.

It should be stated at the outset that winter-shearing of ewes should only be considered where ewes will have seven to eight weeks’ wool regrowth before turning out, and where turnout does not take place before 1 March.

Teagasc research has shown that winter-shearing provides the potential to increase lamb birth weight by an average of 0.6kg without increasing lambing difficulty.

This increase in lamb birth weight has been shown to follow through with lambs born at heavier weights and getting off to a better start, weighing 1.9kg heavier at weaning.

In terms of management benefits, shearing allows 15% more ewes to be housed in a given space

In the Teagasc trial, this subsequently reduced the age of lambs to slaughter by about two weeks. The potential economic dividend from the market depends on the prevailing price at the time of selling while there are potential savings in reduced feed and management costs.

In terms of management benefits, shearing allows 15% more ewes to be housed in a given space. This provides significant potential to house more ewes, provided there is sufficient feed space available.

Shearing will also allow conditions to be monitored more easily and can keep ewes cleaner pre- and post-lambing. This has obvious advantages in reducing the risk of mastitis and E coli infection in young lambs.

It will help keep ewes cleaner at grass, but note that in adverse spring weather, good shelter is vital to avoid ewes succumbing to health issues.