Francis Gonley and his family run a sheep only farm on the outskirts of the town of Sligo. The home farm keeps a closed lowland flock of 110 ewes, including replacement sheep, which are lambed for the first time at one year of age.
he outside farm, 8km away on Benbulben near Glencar lake and waterfall, is home to a 200 sheep Scottish Blackface hill flock and includes grassland of reasonable quality bordering a large communal area.
performance at weaning
Weaning of lambs from adult lowland sheep took place on July 1, with all lambs weighed at 14 weeks of age.
Weaning is a good time to take stock of herd performance – lambs raised per ewe to ram are the single most important factor in the herd’s profitability.
Since Francis joined the Teagasc BETTER farm program in 2017, the Flatland flock has improved significantly in terms of production per ewe thanks to the introduction of prolific Belclare genetics and a focus on maintaining ewes in optimal physical condition at mating.
For the flock of adult ewes this year, Francis has weaned an impressive 156 lambs from 88 ewes linked to the ram – an output of 1.77/adult ewe per ram.
Lambs produced by adult ewes have done well, with gains from birth to weaning at 14 weeks averaging 353 g/day, 279 g/day, and 279 g/day for lambs born as single, twin, and twin breeds, respectively. triplets were born.
No lambs were raised as triplets, with excess lambs being either outsourced or artificially reared.
The average lamb weight at weaning is not always a good indicator of lamb performance.
It’s much more revealing to look at the percentage of lambs that fall into different weight classes at weaning (see table below) – and here only 9 percent were under 25kg in this case.
Table: Weaning weights of lowland lambs from adult ewes
Given the high cost of culling ewes, Francis will use his records to identify and kill the mothers of underperforming lambs at weaning and retain a few extra lambs if needed.
After weaning, a fattening group of lambs over 38 kg is offered high quality grass supplemented with 300-500 g/head/day of concentrate.
Possible replacement lambs were also selected and marked at weaning and are grazed with the lighter group of lambs.
Lambs destined for slaughter are moved into the fattening group as soon as they have reached 38-40 kg live weight from an all-grass diet.
Weaned lambs are grazed on quality grass, allowing them to graze down to 5-6cm before being moved to fresh pasture.
The ewes are a follower group, grazing paddocks up to 4 cm high. Lambs fit for the factory are fed every two weeks.
Problems with the hill herd
The lambs are now to be weaned from the mountain sheep and all are weighed as they are weaned.
The lambs are then taken to the home farm to be calmed after weaning and encouraged to help with excess grass.
Ewes that have been settled and are kept as replacements return to the green pastures.
The plan is to also consume a good portion of the hill lambs on the local farm, while the rest will be sold in shops at the local market.
The flock of ewes will return to the hill for the time being, with all skinny ewes to be kept on green soil to regain physical condition ahead of breeding season.
Signpost demonstration farm
As a signpost participant, all pure nitrogen applications are now in the form of proprietary urea.
Francis plans to distribute 20 units/ac on home farm in August to build autumn grass covers.
Damian Costello is a Teagasc sheep specialist in Athenry
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/sheep/advice/the-importance-of-measuring-and-improving-output-per-ewe-41859619.html The importance of measuring and improving performance per ewe