John Martin farms in partnership with his parents on the
Ards Peninsula 15 miles south of Belfast. The 65ha (160-
acre) Gordonall farm and 16ha (40 acres) of rented land
carry 400 Suffolk x Cheviot ewes, a small flock of Suffolks
and 40 spring calving sucklers. About 20ha (50 acres) of
barley is grown for feed and for sale
ITS that time of year again "with only … shopping days left until Christmas". Although my days are subject to this time-scale also, I tend to see them as the number of washing and disinfecting days until lambing.
Our pre-natal clinic is currently in full swing, with 170 early lambers practising their breathing exercises. They were crutched by a contractor on Nov 10, about five weeks from parturition. This is probably one of the best days work we do all year and has several benefits. Firstly, ewes are easily spotted when they begin to lamb, teats are more accessible for newborn mouths, and finally the ewes dont get dirty when they go onto the rape or spring grass. As well as their annual clostridial vaccine booster, the ewes have been foot bathed every few days. This controls any foot-rot, but also reduces the risk of bacteria getting into bedding and subsequently causing liver abscesses in young lambs.
Due to the extra grass again this autumn these sheep are in exceptional body condition. After housing they will receive the best silage available, with concentrate introduced for the last three weeks of pregnancy. This home-mixed ration based on rolled barley, has fishmeal added to stimulate milk production. This ration is quite acceptable for breeding ewes under current FQAS regulations, but who knows what the future may hold.
The March lambers are now well settled in lamb with only a few ewe lambs left to be marked.
About 100 lambs remain and havent needed any meal yet as the milder weather has returned. They should be all sold by the New Year.
The continuous chorus of calves after weaning has ceased as they have adapted to life on deep pile straw. They have received barley with locally grown peas, as a cheaper protein source than soya meal, at about 1kg/day. This will be reduced to 0.5kg daily in order to control inputs and maximise liveweight gain from silage. Weights at housing were up to 340kg for some of the March born animals.
Their mothers spent a couple of days on straw only to help dry them off, and are now receiving big bale silage and straw alternately to prevent them becoming over fat.
The silo is now fully opened and quality looks good, although it is drier than recent years. However, a representative sample will be sent for analysis in order to be sure of its nutrient content.n
John Martins early lambers receive best quality silage after housing, with concentrates introduced in the last three weeks before lambing starts.