Conference told of benefits of data recording in sheep management

Written by Richard Halleron from Agriland

A Co. Derry sheep producer has highlighted the benefits of using Electronic Identification (EID) technology and data recording to obtain real-time information on the performance of his sheep.

Clement Lynch farms near the village of Park. He is both a member of the National Sheep Association (NSA) and the Ulster Farmers’ Cattle and Sheep committee.

The Co. Derry man spoke at the recent College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) 2022 Virtual Sheep Conference about good sheep management practice.

Clement farms 215ha of land, all within a Severely Disadvantaged Area (SDA). Sheep represent the only enterprise within the business.

He explained: “60ha of the farm are in green fields, the remainder is all hill ground.

“I have 520 ewes going to the ram in tandem with 60 ewe lambs. There are an additional 80 ewe lambs available within the flock each year.

"These are brought through as breeding hoggets.”

Clement runs a closed flock, which comprises 160 Lanark Blackface and 100 mule ewes. The remaining ewes comprise a mix of Suffolk and Texel-cross breed types.

Last autumn, 100 of the Blackface females were crossed with a Swaledale tip. All the ewe lambs will be kept as flock replacements.

The remaining Blackface ewes were crossed with a Bluefaced Leicester tip to produce the required Mule replacements.

Lambing season​

Clement records the birth weights and the daily liveweight gains of all the lambs born on the farm.

Decisions taken as to which lambs will be retained as replacements are taken during the first six weeks of life.

Lambing on the Lynch farm starts during the last week of March.

“We will not see any real grass on the farm before this date,” Clement explained.

“The ewes are lambed in two batches. The cross bred group lambs down first, followed by the Blackface and ewe lambs about 10 days later.

“All of this matches in with the availability of housing facilities on the farm. All the ewes lamb indoors.”

The Blackface lambs are roughly three weeks old by the beginning of May. By that stage they are old enough to go on to the hill.

Sheep management​

Clement uses the Blackface ewes to manage his hill land.

During the summer months there is ample grass for them and their lambs. However, post breeding they will eat the heather that is available to them.

All the Blackface ewes are housed during February in preparation for lambing.

According to Clement, keeping heather at a short height represents good conservation practice.

“In the first instance, it gives a range of birds the perfect habitat in which to nest,” he stressed.

The decision was taken two years ago to divide the grassland area on the farm into paddocks.

“This approach has ensured that the sheep make best use of all the grass that is available to them. They are moved on every three days," he explained.

All lambs not kept for breeding are finished off grass. The objective is to secure the highest possible rates of daily liveweight gain.

Grassland management​

Clement uses a plate metre to measure grass growth rates throughout the grazing season.

This approach, in tandem with the establishment of paddocks, is allowing him to grow more grass and to make better use of the grazing available to the sheep.

Clement views soil analysis as the most important technology that is used on the farm.

He added: “I use the CAFRE calculator to work out what levels of fertiliser should be sown out on each individual field.

“The use of a grass plate metre and the AgriNet software system allows me to decide which fields need to be reseeded and when.

“The performance of all the lambs is recorded with the use of an EID weighing scales.

“This information is computed using a Shearwell flock recording system.

“I also monitor faecal egg counts on a regular basis in order to reduce anthelmentic usage," he said.

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