No passengers – the importance of culling low BCS ewes and other key pre-breeding tasks

Stock management is at the fore for Malin Head farmer Tommy Mullin ahead of the busy breeding season.

From October 1, the flock of sheep is prepared for the selection of rams, already ram dosing, dipping and slaughtering are carried out.

All sheep in the flock were dipped in August. Tommy is adamant that wool remains the best treatment for sheep at this time of year to keep the wool well free of flies, ticks and lice.

Fluke dosing for the year has also begun, with all breeding flocks receiving Triclabendazole-based Endofluke aims to target early random loads.

Tommy recently gave his herd his second forty of the year. The advantages of autumn include more space in the shelter garages and the ewes are less likely to go on their backs after lambing.

It also helped identify lean sheep before breeding and separating them for slaughter.

The breeding flock was inspected as the lambs were weaned and the ewes for slaughter were released for sale earlier this spring.

A further 5% of ewes were culled, mainly due to thin ewes or bad udders, and a second pull was carried out at the time of culling.

Tommy doesn’t want to carry any passengers in the winter.

He is satisfied with the breeding condition of the ewes with a BCS of 3.5-4.0.

Ewe lambs are preferred before the first run with the ram at the end of October, enzootic abortion and toxoplasmosis vaccination will be carried out this week.

The ram team will soon be back in action on the farm and the breeding season is just around the corner. Tommy refreshed his breeding stock by buying some Texel and Suffolk ram lambs to ensure he had enough ram power on the ground.

All rams were purchased at the Sheep Ireland sale in Tullamore based on star ratings for terminal and replacement traits.

Tommy implements a strict quarantine protocol for incoming breeding stock, rams are isolated, wormed and given Heptavac-P.

The rams are allowed a few weeks to acclimatise to their new environment on the farm and are lightly supplemented with concentrate to ensure they are fit and ready to participate in October.

Lamb prices continue to build on a weekly basis with some declines in recent weeks.

Tommy introduced 0.5kg of concentrate to his heavier lambs at pasture in August to help them break down.

Lambs are fed in trays once a day; no creeping baits in the fields. Tommy reckons the heaviest lambs will eat most of the food.

With a coarse ration of around €440/tonne, Tommy is not looking to significantly increase feed in the next few weeks.

With 100 lambs to slaughter in the last two weeks, this method works well for pushing lambs.

Worm loads and dosing regimens were also closely monitored throughout the summer.

The lambs were dirtier than Tommy would have liked in August and although the FEC sample showed a low load of 100 epg for strongyle, the sample showed coccidiosis. Immediate action was taken to treat the lambs and production continued normally.

Tommy is awaiting the final results of the manure sample and expects the worm load to increase with the recent wet, warm weather.

Meanwhile, the calves were weighed and FEC samples were taken for the BEEP scheme. The breeding stock has been scanned and a young cow that is not in calf will be sold soon.

Tommy has a few heifers coming this spring to keep the cow count. Fluke dosing for cattle will not begin until the herd has been kept for six weeks.

With an impressive 200 tonnes of lime spread and a further 50 tonnes of lime spread by 2022, lawn care remains a priority.

10ac of grass has been plowed and reseeded and is ready for spray once it is safe for alfalfa.

Even if the evenings are approaching Tommy found time away from the farm for a few days. He plans to attend Plowing and he has had an interesting trip with a Nuffield scholar from Australia completing his research around Ireland.

There is a lot of vital work to be prioritized on sheep farms at this time of year, with problem ewes being identified, with breeding stock and ram MOTs of particular importance.

Timely procurement of rams is essential to ensure sufficient quarantine period before mating with ewes.

You should also order vaccinations in sufficient time to ensure that ewe lambs and purchased cattle are covered for breeding prior to abortion.

Tommy Doherty is a Teagasc consultant based in Ballybofey, Co Donegal

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