A chal­leng­ing spring on the Hig­gins farm

Early treat­ment of lame ewes has paid off, writes Tom Coll

Irish Independent - Farming - - FINANCE -

LAMB­ING com­menced on the Hig­gins farm on March 1 and was com­pact for the ma­ture ewe flock with 85pc lamb­ing down to the first cy­cle. Ewe-lambs be­gan lamb­ing from March 17 with 90pc lambed by the end of April. Us­ing the Bel­tex ram on the ewe-lambs did not cre­ate ad­di­tional lamb­ing prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to Philip, who farms a mixed en­ter­prise of suck­ler cows and sheep in Skreen, Co Sligo.

The sheep en­ter­prise con­sists of 316 com­mer­cial ewes, 29 pedi­gree Tex­els and 115 ewe lambs put to the ram on the Oc­to­ber 9, 2017. The flock size has steadily in­creased from 200 ewes in 2012.

If any­thing he had a high per­cent­age of small lambs around 3kg at birth. Twelve sheep aborted due to tox­o­plas­mo­sis prior to lamb­ing which equates to 3pc of the flock. Philip es­ti­mates lamb losses to be around 10pc at this stage from scan­ning to turnout.

Prob­lems that arose last year, such as joint ill in lambs and lame­ness in ewes, thank­fully did not ma­te­ri­alise this year apart from a few cases.

“I put a huge ef­fort into early treat­ment of lame ewes, en­sur­ing ewes were in good con­di­tion at lamb­ing and hy­giene in the sheds was good around lamb­ing time. It ap­pears to have thus far paid off,” says Philip. “Ten per­cent of last year’s lamb crop died due to an out­break of joint ill. This year in the week prior to the com­mence­ment of lamb­ing, I changed the ewes from a leafy high qual­ity pit silage to higher dry mat­ter silage which in my opin­ion left the plas­tic slats a lot cleaner at lamb­ing than they were last year.”

All lamb­ing pens were cleaned and dis­in­fected with an an­tibac­te­rial pow­der af­ter each ewe, the pow­der was also spread on the slats daily. This year weak lambs and non-suck­ing lambs at birth were stom­ach tubed with ewe colostrum un­like the use of cow colostrum in pre­vi­ous years.


This year was ex­tremely chal­leng­ing when it came to post-lamb­ing man­age­ment on the Hig­gins farm. Ewes were turned out to grass for the first two weeks of March and fed 0.5kg of con­cen­trates per day.

Low growth rates and de­plet­ing grass cov­ers forced Philip to in­crease feed­ing rates to 1kg per day and to cease let­ting out ewes. This put ex­tra pres­sure on housing fa­cil­i­ties and re­quired a lot of ad­di­tional labour.

From mid-March to midApril an ad­di­tional 300kg in­creas­ing to 400kg per day was fed to ewes post-lamb­ing or 2.5 tons per week of con­cen­trates at €300 per tonne. Philip has fed on av­er­age 67kg per ewe or €20 per ewe pre- and post-lamb­ing this year.

Av­er­age farm cov­ers for early to late March and the most re­cent farm cover are out­lined in Ta­ble 1 ( be­low). The cur­rent av­er­age farm cover on the graz­ing block be­ing mea­sured is 256kg DM/ha with an av­er­age growth rate of 20kg DM/ha for the pre­vi­ous 30 days.

Silage ground has been closed and fer­tilised on April 20 which leaves 17 days of graz­ing ahead on the graz­ing block. Philip is in a good po­si­tion go­ing for­ward as far as grass sup­ply with ground tem­per­a­tures now con­sis­tently above 10oC as mea­sured in nearby Easkey.


Based on the most re­cent soil sam­ples taken in Jan­uary 2018, 77pc of the farm is in­dex 1 for P and 23pc in­dex 2. Around 32pc of the land area is in­dex 2 , 62pc in­dex 3 and 6pc in­dex 4 for K. Some 32pc of the farm is 6.3 or on tar­get pH, 49pc between 6.0 and 6.3 and 22pc less than pH 6.0.

The first step for Philip to cor­rect soil fer­til­ity is­sues will be to apply a tonne of lime per acre to soils with pH of 6.0 to 6.3 and 2 tonnes per acre to soils which are less than pH 6.0, which in Philip’s case is rented land.

The farm is cur­rently stocked at eight ewes per ha, there­fore Philip will have to grow 8 tonnes of grass dry mat­ter per Ha per year to meet flock de­mand. Twenty-five units of Urea per acre was spread on the silage ground and on the drier fields on Fe­bru­ary 20. The same fields got 1.5 bags of 18-6-12 on March 17 and an ad­di­tional two bags of 18-6-12 on April 20. 18-6-12 + Sul­phur and CAN + Sul­phur will be used for the rest of the year when re­quired.

The next crit­i­cal time pe­riod for Philip is when to dose for ne­ma­todirus. He plans to dose some­time in the first week of May now that the lambs are eat­ing more grass. Coc­cid­io­sis has not been an is­sue on the farm to date, but as sheep num­bers in­crease, the sit­u­a­tion will be as­sess on an on­go­ing ba­sis.

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