Last year, 27 pcs of sheep kept for rams at John Joe Fitzgerald’s Kerry Hill Farm did not lamb. This year, that figure dropped to just 5 percent, with the litter size being 1.3 sheep per lamb.
Sheep blood samples and other in-depth analyzes were not able to identify a single clear reason for this significant improvement, but there were several possible contributing factors.
These include a reduction in the incidence of dog-anxiety on the hill after mating and very careful management of rams and raddle colors during the mating period.
Another possible factor is the breed composition of John Joe’s herd, in Bailey Ann Lochag on the Dingle Peninsula, where he and his wife Karen share 12ha (30ac) of green/better plains and 80ha (198ac) of open mangroves on Mt. Brandon, plus commonage. Another half (11ha) of an enclosed section of rough ground at the base.
Many half- and three-quarter breed ewes (Texel and Belclear crosses) were previously kept as replacement ewes, and these struggled to maintain BCS, especially during winter on hills.
This led to poor BCS, and then poor quality lambs, which were slow growing due to the low milk production capacity of lean sheep.
John Joe’s breeding policy focuses on increasing the proportion of purebred mountain sheep that can graze on the hill and perform better.
Lambing ended on 13 May after starting five weeks earlier.
John Joe took care to remove the rams from the sheep after a five-week mating period last autumn; Their focus on breeding policy and BCS in mating have enabled them to shorten the duration of their lambs.
This not only reduces labor on the farm but also simplifies herd management as small groups of sheep and lambs are not needed during the summer.
John Joe is very happy with how the lambing happened.
He pulls out the lamb on an enclosed piece of rough ground at the base of the mango. The sheep are offered complementary concentrates here, and once the lamb and its lambs are brought indoors in separate pens for 24 hours to allow them to bond and ensure that the lambs are Get enough colostrum.
During this the data of lambs of both sheep and sheep are recorded. This data, along with sheep weights recorded during the year, is helping John Joe identify poorly performing ewes in the herd and attempt to spot any causes of flock performance issues.
After 24 hours the sheep and its lambs are switched to ‘green’ ground, where they graze until seven weeks of weight gain is achieved in late June.
The single-bearing sheep and their lambs would then go up the hill, while the twins would stay down until weaned.
John Joe is using temporary electric fencing at this time of year to control weeds and manage the hay supply.
The surplus would be left over for silage or hay, if necessary the silage would be sold and the hay bought back.
John Joe over the years has found it difficult to manage feeding silage outside of pre-lambing; He had problems with listeriosis and prolapse, both of which have dropped to almost zero this year as hay is being fed and more forage space is available for the sheep.
Currently hay supply is on target for green land with 14 grazing days, but hay growth is still relatively slow for this time of year, 23 kgdm/day, which lags behind demand.
The first round of fertilizer was applied to this land in mid-March – 15 units/acre of nitrogen – and the plan is to go with another 15 units this week as of 18-6-12.
Lime is also being applied this week at 2 ton/acre, which missed last year due to weather conditions.
Frank Campion Athenry, is a Teagasque consultant based in Galway