Dismal weather conditions have presented challenges for farmers in Ireland as they strive to finish their lambs. This has resulted in some factories reporting poorer condition of lambs in recent weeks. One of the main issues affecting the achievement of target weights for lambs is the later cuts of silage, which has left less aftergrass available for growth. The dry matter in grass has been low, causing a drop in lamb performance due to lower intake, thus impacting their drafting. Ciaran Lynch, a Teagasc sheep specialist, has stated that these challenging factors are evident in the national kill, which is significantly lower than the same period last year.
To address this situation, Lynch advises that farmers assess the remaining lambs to determine their stage of finishing. By weighing a variety of lambs, farmers can estimate how many fall into the following categories for finishing: short term (over 40kg), medium term (35-40kg), and longer term lambs (less than 35kg). Farmers are also advised to review drafting patterns from previous years in comparison to the current season, as this will provide an indication of this year’s performance and what the farm can carry into the autumn.
To manage the increased number of lambs, farmers must ensure there is sufficient grass for the coming weeks by applying fertiliser when conditions allow. Lynch emphasizes that better responses will be achieved with August applications rather than waiting closer to the fertiliser deadline. After weaning, lambs typically achieve growth rates of 200g/day, declining to 150g/day or 1.5kg to 1kg gain per week from July through to early September. However, due to recent weather conditions, these growth rates are not being met.
Farmers will need to introduce a level of concentrates to the diet of the lambs they are finishing. It is recommended to split the lambs into groups of similar weights, ideally within 5-10kg of the required drafting weight. Using troughs for feeding lambs is a cost-effective method that allows all lambs access to the same level of feed at once. Feed rates of up to 0.5kg in a single feed will deliver improved performance with good efficiency. In cases where bringing lambs to target weights has been slow, Lynch suggests increasing the feed rates to 1kg, split into twice-daily feeds for a finishing group. In some instances, selling a portion of stores may be advisable to reduce the demand for feed and provide additional income.
The number of lighter, under-fleshed lambs being brought to factories is posing challenges for processors in marketing them, and it is not returning the maximum profit to the farmers. Lynch suggests that such lambs may have been better suited to the live trade or further feeding. It is important to consider that as the season progresses, the kill-out will decline when drafting lambs. Lambs born in March, for example, are now between 20-24 weeks old and should have an average kill-out of 42-43% at this time of year. To achieve a 20kg carcass, Lynch recommends drafting lambs at 47.5kg with adequate cover. Other factors such as breed, gender, and level of feed will influence lamb kill-out and need to be taken into account when drafting lambs.