Sheep Tech: How these brothers reduced lambing mortality rates

The death rate from lambing at Tim and Richard Sheil’s farm on the border between Wexford and Carlow had fallen sharply this year, which the brothers attribute to vaccination.

All ewes were vaccinated against toxoplasmosis before going into the ram after problems in previous years with miscarriages in some ewes.

The flock of 261 ewes began lambing on March 19 as planned, with all lambing within five weeks. The farm at Coolree, 2 miles from the village of Kiltealy in the shadow of Blackstairs Mountain, has had no major problems or outbreaks of disease.

A total of 48 lambs were lost, representing a 10% loss from scanning. The goal for relatively large litter sizes is generally to keep this number under 12 head.

Richard says: “I am delighted that we have made the decision to get vaccinated against toxoplasmosis after being diagnosed positive at lambing last year.

“Mortality was greatly reduced and lambing difficulties appeared to be reduced as well.”


The brothers in the fields

The Sheils’ straw blower made the provision of adequate bedding during the stall period for both lamb pens and group pens much easier, so this was done more frequently and hygiene improved.

This also seemed to help with health problems.

“Ewes were well on their feet prior to placement and this continued through to turnout,” says Tim.

“All the individual lamb pens were cleared out after each ewe. In any case, being generous with the straw during the husbandry/lamb period has worked well.”

150 bales of barley straw are already in reserve on the farm from last year’s harvest, so little extra straw is needed for next winter; The brothers hope this will allow for additional straw sales in 2022.

Ewes and lambs are grazing in four smaller groups but will be split into larger groups this week to put grazing pressure on the paddocks and help with grass management.

The plan is to move groups of sheep from each pen/field after 3-4 days of grazing to maximize grass regrowth.

Lambs are not currently fed a meal; Depending on grass supply and performance later in the grazing season, a tail group of lambs can be put together to focus the meal on lambs further ahead.

This will help keep concentrate supplementation to a minimum while maximizing conversion rates.

The lambs were treated for Nematodirus worms and coccidia and received their first vaccination against Clostridial.
Grass growth on the farm has picked up speed lately and 14 ac first cut silage is planned for Thursday 26th May. Plans to harvest about 8 bales per ac of quality silage, about 75 DMD.

A second cut can also be planned later in the season to secure the winter lining.

After establishing a feed budget, Tim and Richard estimate they need about 200 bales of silage to be comfortable for next winter, based on 100 ewes needing 20 bales of fresh weight silage per month.

There are also 60 hay bales in the yard as a buffer.

In addition, 27 home lambs are reared artificially. They have recently been weaned from milk replacers and are now fed a meal at will.


No feed is currently being fed to the lambs

Previously, once these lambs were weaned from the milk replacer, they would have been released to pasture and sold later in the season, but performance in this system has been variable.

That year, the decision was made to end them indoors with a meal at will and fetch a hefty lamb price in the not-too-distant future.

The vast majority of the hoggets transported on the catch crops after tilling the farm have now been slaughtered, with most carcasses weighing 21.5 to 23kg – an average kill of 46 per cent for both male and female lambs.

Shearing of the ewes is also planned and the lambs will be treated with Clik Extra to provide protection against fly infestation for 19 weeks. This is done annually on the farm and gives great peace of mind when Tim and Richard are working off the farm

All pastures have received one bag of 18-6-12/ac and half a bag of Protected Urea/ac so far. If grazing days continue to increase in advance, some paddocks can be removed as excess bales, along with the first main cut next week.

Reseeding is also planned for the coming weeks.

With lambs eating more grass in the coming weeks, attention will turn to controlling intestinal worms – there have been some problems with resistance to certain anthelmintic groups in the past.

The plan is to conduct a fecal egg reduction test on various dewormers to see what works well and then develop a plan to ensure its effectiveness in the future

James Doran is a Teagasc Drystock consultant based in Enniscorthy Sheep Tech: How these brothers reduced lambing mortality rates

Fry Electronics Team

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