Tommy Boland: 90pc of ewes lambed within an eight-day period on UCD’s farm

Lambing at Lyons is all but finished at this stage, with the first round of lambing resulting in over 90pc of ewes lambed within an eight-day period, with only around 7pc of the flock lambing as repeats.

This is a somewhat more compact lambing than in previous years at Lyons, and this did present some challenges.

These challenges arose from the demand on individual lambing pens. Over one 24-hour period alone, 70 ewes gave birth to three or more lambs, essentially tying up many of our lambing pens. This issue will be addressed by the purchase of more penning for the 2020 lambing season.

Workload was heightened during lambing this year also, due to the fact Jonathan Higgins had 90 twin-bearing ewes on an experiment where all ewes were milked one, 10 and 18 hours after lambing and the colostrum was fed back to their lambs.

While we still have a lot of analysis to do on this data, there are a few clear signals coming from it.

The volume of colostrum produced by ewes varies greatly, even when there are no obvious differences in ewe condition. This does however reflect feed intake, somewhat, and this is another area where there is a lot of animal-to-animal variation.

Despite all ewes being offered 100pc of their requirements, there was a huge variation in the quantity of feed, and as a result, the quantity of energy consumed (as a percentage of a ewe’s actual requirements).

This meant that some ewes required much less feed than we ‘predicted’ to produce good lambs and lots of colostrum; some ewes required much more, and some ewes, despite consuming adequate feed and energy, were not able to produce good-size lambs or adequate quantities of colostrum.

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The big issue at both a research level and at a farm level, is identifying these ewes easily.

The workload involved in the studies above would not have been completed without the help of second-year Bachelor of Agricultural Science students from Belfield, and as always the enthusiasm and work ethic of the students, who volunteer for the research experience, is to be commended.

An additional workload was added by the fact that Lyons farm was a host for the Agri Aware Farm Walk and Talk initiative again this year when in excess of 700 secondary school students from a collection of urban and more rural schools visit the lambing shed over two days in peak lambing.

The reaction of some students to the birth process is always enlightening, with some taking it in their stride, some absolutely shocked and appalled by the process, and many largely indifferent to the whole thing. What it does indicate to me, in the current climate of debate around and, in some instances, vilification of what happens on livestock farms, is that there are huge gaps in people’s understanding of what happens on farms.

The activities of Agri Aware and Lyons are just one small piece of the puzzle when it comes to educating our consumers of the realities of agriculture.

Turn-out to grass of ewes and lambs after lambing was delayed by around a week this year, due to the inclement weather conditions immediately after lambing.

Ewes were put in groups of 45 to 60 ewes, plus their lambs, per paddock on the silage ground. Now that ewes are out to grass, there is substantial grass available for them, and grass was growing at 45kg DM per ha per day in the week up to March 20. In the coming days, these ewes will be joined into larger groups to set up the rotation for the main grazing season. Lambs or ewes are not receiving concentrate supplementation at grass, with the exception of a group of ewes rearing triplets.

At the time of writing, we are collecting some of the ewes and lambs to measure lamb performance to three weeks as part of Jonathan’s PhD.

The next month will see the grazing rotation becoming established. Lambs will most likely be dosed for Nematodirus control in the coming weeks, dependent on challenge, with a Benzimidazole (white drench) – and lambs will be weighed at six weeks of age to monitor growth rate, which up to that point is almost entirely ­dependent on the milk yield of their ewe. Professor Tommy Boland is an associate professor in sheep production at Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. Twitter: @Pallastb email: [email protected]

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