‘How many lambs are too many?’ – Sheep Ireland conference

Lambs – and how they are the key driver of profitability – was the key focus of Noirin McHugh of Teagasc in a presentation given to attendees this afternoon.

Mchugh was speaking today, Friday, January 17, at the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) and Sheep Ireland Genetics Conference 2020, at the Heritage Hotel, Co. Laois.

In an ideal environment, a farmer will want to arrive into the lambing shed with a ewe after lambing and two lambs beside her, healthy and hardy. However, this is far from reality, McHugh said.

The key driver of profitability on all sheep farms is the number of lambs born. Likewise, a key factor in achieving profitability is prolificacy.

“A prolific flock will result in an increase in the number of lambs born, which will result in increased profits. Furthermore, when you increase the number of lambs born you will increase your replacement index.”


Mchugh continued on to talk to about heritability and how this can affect the number of lambs born.

Research carried out by Teagasc shows that the average number of lambs born is 1.7 (live and dead).

Mchugh said: “Heritability can be defined as the proportion in the difference between two different ewes that are purely down to genetics. In this case, the difference is found to be 11%.

“Other traits which have an impact on the heritability on the number of lambs born is barren rate and pregnancy rate,” she added.

In terms of factors not related to genetics that have an impact on the number of lambs a ewe has is down to management, feed and breed type.

“Going back and answering the question ‘How many lambs are too many’, research carried out by Teagasc shows that the optimum number of lambs born is 2.2.

“Going over this and you are in danger of reducing the profitability of the enterprise.

“Furthermore, anything over 2.2 and you are increasing the chances of having to deal with pet lambs or cross-fostering which adds to the workload during lambing time,” McHugh concluded.