Agridirect.ie discusses the predators most likely to attack your flock, and asks: how can we read the signs to identify the predator?
The mystery of the dead lambs
For the last month or so, we have kept a dozen ewe lambs, born last April, in the meadow beside our house. These are good, strong Brockie faced hoggets that will be ready for the ram this autumn.
One night, about a fortnight ago, they were attacked. We found one dead on a murky wet morning, with half her neck eaten away. Two days later, we discovered a second lamb dead. This time, the entire head had been taken.
Agridirect.ie talks early lambing, and outlines some of the steps farmers can take to prevent lamb losses before, during and after birth.
As December draws to a close, early lambing is underway up and down the country. Now, when it comes to yeaning most farmers are well used to dealing with complications and are justifiably proud of their track record in this respect.
However, none of us should rest on our laurels when it comes to lambing outcomes. Few of us will come through the season without a few losses, but we should not forget the simple steps we can take to mitigate the risk of significant losses before, during and after birth.
Agridirect.ie discusses the causes of abortion in ewes and outlines some measures that farmers can take to mitigate risk.
Flock health post tupping
At this stage in the year, most ewes have already gone to the ram. After a successful tupping season (hopefully), our thoughts now turn to maintaining ewe health during the gestation period. Only ewes in peak physical condition are likely to birth strong, healthy lambs. Ewes in poor health are always liable to abort the foetus or fail to hold to the ram. Therefore, it is essential that we ensure the flock has access to plenty of high-quality feed, and that our animals’ diets are supplemented with vitamin and mineral drenches/boluses.
Preventing abortive disease
Even ewes in good physical condition can end up aborting lambs due to infectious disease. Small numbers of abortions among healthy animals may result from poor handling or in-fighting among sheep. However, if your flock has been hit by large numbers of ewe abortions in recent years, it is possible that you have a problem with enzootic abortion attributable to infection by Toxoplasma gondii or Campylobacter. It is estimated that these infections are responsible for up to 80 percent of later stage abortion in ewes.
As the weather gets wetter, Agridirect.ie discusses the increased danger of fluke in sheep and offers some advice to farmers on the best treatments available on the market.
A Grim Forecast
The forecast for the foreseeable makes for grim reading. Of the seven days ahead, only one – Friday – is likely to bring as much as a ray sunshine. The rest of the week is set to be overcast, showery or downright torrential. For sheep farmers, this should be a concern. While the dip in temperature over the last couple of weeks has banished the threat of the blowfly, internal parasites remain a major problem. By now, the fluke parasite will have left the mud snail that hosts it during the summer months and migrated onto grass. Wet grassland, especially, will be full of fluke. If you can, you should keep animals off your wettest fields at this time of year, no matter how lush the grass.
Agridirect.ie discusses the threat of pneumonia in livestock during the winter months, and outlines the early symptoms to watch out for.
Winter is not far off now. Temperatures plummeted over the last couple of weeks, and some recent nights have had a distinctly wintry feel. Over the next month or so, we can expect conditions to deteriorate further, with increased rainfall and colder air sweeping across the country. On the farm, this seasonal change brings with it several new threats. One of these is the risk of pneumonia in livestock. Farmers should be particularly mindful of this danger, as it can kill quickly and leaves few outward signs for a post-mortem.
Agridirect.ie discusses foot rot and scald in sheep, and outlines some of the steps farmers can take to mitigate the problem.
Foot ailments in sheep
It is a simple fact that if you keep sheep, you will have to deal with lameness on an annual basis. Sheep, and particularly some of the terminal breeds, are notoriously prone to debilitating hoof ailments. Foremost among these are scald and foot rot. Both tend to proliferate in wet, warm conditions so sheep farmers should be vigilant at the moment. While I haven’t encountered any hoof issues on our farm this autumn, I have heard several farmers complaining of a major outbreak of either scald or foot rot.
Agridirect.ie talks the threat of autumn blowfly strike and maggots, and discusses some of the best solutions for managing this scourge over the coming weeks.
Autumn comes in wet and warm
Summer may be over, but for sheep farmers the threat of maggots has not gone away. If anything, the danger has increased in recent days. September has delivered the kind of warm, murky conditions in which the blowfly thrives. Over the last week, we have had several days when the temperature was between 20 and 25 degrees, while heavy rain showers persist. This blast of damp heat means that sheep’s wool is wet and warm, providing the ideal situation for the fly to lay its eggs. To compound the danger, it is now a couple of months since most sheep farmers finished shearing, so wool is starting to get heavy again.
With tupping season just around the corner, farmers need to consider ram breeds carefully. Agridirect.ie looks at the pros and cons of the various breeds available to Irish farmers, and discusses some of the ways that farmers are maximising their output through genetic planning.
Choosing the right breeding ram for your farm requires careful planning. It’s not simply a matter of walking into the nearest sheep sale, picking out a strong-looking ram and making a bid for him. If this is your approach, don’t be surprised if your neighbours are netting better prices than you are at selling time. There is huge variation in the physical traits of sheep breeds, and it is important to bear these in mind when selecting your ram. Before deciding on a breeding ram for their ewes, farmers should ask themselves what they want from their flock.
Agridirect.ie discusses sheep fertility and the importance of mineral supplementation against deficiency in the weeks before tupping season.
The science of fertility
Tupping season is only a few weeks away now. As I touched on in last week’s blog, late August and September is the time to focus on getting the breeding flock in tiptop shape before putting in the ram. Most sheep farmers will agree that this is an exact science.
While there are many factors that might negatively impact overall flock fertility at this crucial time of the year, mineral deficiencies will always be a key concern for sheep farmers. Obviously, ensuring that your ewes have access to good grazing as we move into September will be a crucial part of safeguarding against the various deficiencies that contribute to infertility. A malnourished ewe will always be deficient in key vitamins and minerals, so remember to get that body condition score up to a healthy 3 or 3.5 before putting her to the ram!
As August draws to a close, Agridirect.ie talks preparation for tupping season and offers sheep farmers some advice to help maximize results.
General flock health
It’s been another strange year in many ways, but some things don’t change. When August rolls around, sheep farmers inevitably look towards the autumn and think of the breeding season. While most of us will not put in the ram until October or November, we know that now is the time to start preparing the flock for tupping.