Some early lambing flocks have begun lambing over the past two weeks, with the target being the Easter market premium.
However, the majority of flocks will see ewes lambing down between February and April, as farmers seek to match grass growth with peak demand.
Below are a few useful tips to keep in mind over the lambing period.
1. Lambing pens
The number of individual pens required for indoor lambing flocks will be dependent on flock size, compactness of the lambing period and litter size.
Generally, farmers should have individual pens for 10% of the flock. However, where the lambing period is less spread out and a large number of ewes will lamb in a 10- to 14-day period, 15% to 20% should be the target for individual pens.
Sick ewes, poorly lambs or ewes not taking to lambs can all result in individual pens being occupied for several days.
In general, when ewes have taken to lambs well, 24 hours should be ample time for ewes and lambs to bond.
2. Water and feed supplies
Farmers should look to automate feeding of ewes in lambing pens.
Sewer pipes with slots cut in to them, as shown in the photo below, can service several pens with an automatic water supply, eliminating the need for buckets or hoses.
A small ball cock can be plumbed into one end, with a bung fitted at the other end to allow the supply to be cleaned out if a ewe defecates into it.
Filling a small, sealed container with concentrates and having silage or hay in close proximity to pens will help reduce the time it takes to feed ewes.
Recording of data is critical to the smooth running of the flock when it comes to culling ewes and retaining replacements.
Some farmers may have signed up to a recording service that will allow them record data on their mobile phones.
For others, a small whiteboard can be fixed to each individual pen gate listing date and time of birth, milking ability, a lamb fostered on, etc.
A trusted notebook, or an Irish Farmers Journal diary, are also good ways to record data, provided they don’t become lost.
Tagging ewes for culling with a management tag is one of the most effective ways to ensure that these ewes will not be bred again.
Some farmers opt for a red tag (red card offence), which means the ewe will not be bred in the coming season.
Others will use a green or blue tag (yellow card offence) for ewes that commit more minor sins. Should the ewe cause issues in the future after receiving a yellow card, she should promptly be shown red and culled.
Hygiene is critical to a successful lambing, as disease breaking into the lambing shed can cause untold labour and mortality.
Straw at any price is a cheap means of preventing diseases, so ample amounts of it should be used to keep clean, dry bedding under ewes and lambs.
At a minimum, pens should be cleaned out every second sheep and thoroughly disinfected in between ewes.
All bottles and stomach tubes used for feeding lambs should be cleaned and disinfected after use and all lambs should have their navels disinfected using an appropriate solution.
An ample supply of arm-length and hand gloves should be available.
It’s important that farmers organise additional help where required to assist with lambing.
Family members can be roped in to cover the lambing shed or there are several professional shepherds who offer their services for lambing times.
Agricultural students can be of great addition in the busy spring period, although they should not be seen as a cheap labour source and should only be taken on where opportunities to learn skills and knowledge around lambing will be made available to them.