Why sheep farmers should have a closing plan in place now

Sheep farmers should have a closing plan in place this October to ensure they have enough of grass next spring for ewes with lambs at foot, according to Teagasc Research Officer Philip Creighton.

Ideally paddocks should have at least a 120 day rest period over the winter and farmers should be closing paddocks from now onwards while grass is still actively growing, Creighton said.

Teagasc advises this closing plan for sheep farmers:
  • 15-20% by the end of October.
  • 40% by mid-November.
  • 60% by end of November.
  • 80% by mid-December.

“This table would be based on an early March lambing flock, with paddocks that are closed first now representing the first paddocks ewes and lambs will be let into in the spring.”

Farmers should not be tempted to graze a paddock that has been closed if supplies of grass are running tight in December or January, Creighton advised.

“When grass gets tight introduce supplements or silage, it’s more important to hold the grass for when the ewe has lambs at foot. It’s much easier to feed a ewe before she has one or two lambs depending on her for milk.

“This grass is worth much more in the spring to the freshly lambed ewe than to a ewe mid-pregnancy.”

A ewes feed requirement mid-pregnancy is approximately half that of a ewe in early lactation.

Meanwhile, he advised that sheep that cannot be housed for the winter should be grazed in a confined area, with the addition of silage or supplements where needed, so as to rest other land.

Farmers should close paddocks closest to the lambing shed and which have a bit of shelter for newborn lambs first, in preparation for next spring.

These earlier closed paddocks will react quickest to an early application of fertiliser, Creighton said, especially when temperatures begin to rise in February and March.

In regards to next spring, paddocks should have a grass cover of between approximately 6-8cm before letting out ewes and lambs, he said.

This would represent between close to 750kg and 1200kg of DM/ha, while anything above this would have a stem-percentage not suitable for ewes and lambs, according to the Teagasc Research Officer.