During the week, Agriland made the trip down to Knockroe, in Co. Carlow to speak to Padraig Joyce, a sheep farmer lambing down 300 ewes, made up predominately of Cheviots at the foot of the Blackstairs Mountains.
Of the 300-ewe flock, 240 of the ewes are Cheviots, while a further 60 are broken down mainly into Suffolk-cross ewes and a handful of Scotch ewes bought in last year.
The Cheviot ewes are run with a Suffolk ram with the aim of producing nice speckled-faced ewe lambs – which are highly sought after.
At the time of our visit, Padraig flanked by his two children, Tomas and Roisin, were halfway through lambing and took time out of their busy schedule to have a chat.
The Joyces prides themselves on breeding good-quality sheep and this has been backed up many times, having been prize-winners at the Borris Ewe Breeders’ show and sale over the last few years.
The Joyces strive to breed good-quality speckled-face ewe lambs for the well-known show and sale every year and last year, Padraig was the second-prize winner in the ewe lamb section at the first show and sale.
Padraig and his family took us through the management of their flock prior to and at lambing time, as well how ewes and their lambs are managed post-lambing.
Management of ewes prior to lambing
The 300-ewe flock was outwintered on two paddocks right beside the farmyard, with silage offered to the ewes and then after scanning, concentrates were added to the diet.
Ewes were split according to litter size and started off getting a small bit of meal before being gradually built up.
Padraig said that single ewes up to the point of lambing were getting up to 0.5kg of meal, while twin-bearing ewes were receiving up to 1kg.
Triplet-bearing ewes were getting well over 1kg of meal at the point of lambing, while soya bean meal was added two-to-three weeks out from lambing to boost colostrum production.
Padraig said: “We outwinter the ewes here and we find it works well for us. We offer good-quality silage and once we scan the ewes we get them started on meal.
“Because our ground is quite hilly and the soil is quite shallow, ground tends to stay reasonably dry over the winter – so the ewes don’t tend to rip up the ground and are very content. There is also good shelter in the field.
“It’s in the summer, when the weather is dry when we feel the pinch and ground starts to burn up.
“We introduce soya bean meal about two-to-three weeks out from lambing and it is hugely important ewes get some.
“You will only end up having ewes with no milk and when you have a big group like we have here, you are only going to run into trouble.
“We find the Cheviots to be great mothers and are very milky ewes – which is what we want.”
At the time of writing, the Joyces had 150 ewes lambed down – which is the halfway point for them.
The remaining 150 ewes are still residing in the 5ac paddock near the lambing shed. Although, in the evening, they are brought inside to the lambing shed.
Here they are fed silage and bedded with straw. The reason for bringing them in at night is simply down to ease of management.
Padraig checks the ewes late in the evening before Tomas comes out again at around 4:00am to check to see if any are close to lambing and to assist them, if needed.
Padraig added: “It’s a busy time here at the moment. We are about halfway through lambing and so far, so good, thank god.
“The way we work it here is we keep the ewes out by day and feed them meal just outside the shed in the yard and offer them silage out in the field.
“Then come the evening or late at night, if the weather is good, we bring them back into the lambing shed late at night where again they have access to silage.
“We have indiviual pens set up along the length of the lambing shed, so if we have any ewes lambing during the night, it’s handy to have them inside and just carry the lambs over into the pen.
“It’s just not practical to keep them out at night and to be keeping an eye on them out in the field.
“Tomas is on the night shift and checks in on them around 3:00-4:00am. Roisin and I would then go out in the morning and check in on the ewes again and then let them out to yard to feed them meal and then back out to the field.
“All ewes and their lambs are moved into an individual pen after lambing. Even if they lamb out in the field during the day, we would bring them in and let the ewe bond with her lamb(s).
“It just gives us a chance to keep a close eye on them, to see if the ewe will take to them no problem and then to make sure they are fed and get plenty of colostrum into them.”
Turnout of ewes and lambs
Once a ewe lambs, she is moved to an individual pen with her lambs to bond for 24 hours.
A small group pen is also set up in the lambing shed for ewes and lambs to take pressure off individual pen space.
Once Padraig is happy, a ewe and her lambs are turned out to paddocks around the lambing shed.
Padraig added: “The paddocks where the ewes and lambs are now, were fertilised a couple of weeks ago and have a nice cover of grass on them.
“Ewes are offered up to 0.5kg of meal after lambing for four-to-five weeks, while the lambs are introduced to creep about three-to-four weeks post-turnout.”
Speckled-faced ewe lambs
Nothing brings more joy to the Joyces at lambing time than to see a ewe have a speckled-faced ewe lamb(s).
However, more often than not, the lamb is a ram lamb. On the day of Agriland’s visit, a ewe lambed down with two speckled-faced lambs, but at closer inspection, the two lambs were rams – much to the disappointment of the Joyces who are witnessing a large number of ram lambs this year.
Padraig said: “The Borris ewe is highly sought after, with buyers coming from all parts of the country to source these types of ewe lambs, hoggets and mature ewes at the Borris sales.
“We have been lucky to win a few prizes along the way for ewe lambs down through the years – which is nice and gives you the confidence that you are going about your work the right way.
“Last year we won second-prize, in the ewe lambs section, at the first show and sale. Those ewe lambs went on to sell afterwards for €170/head.
“Then, Tomas won first prize for his ewe lambs at the second sale; they sold for €175/head.
“All going well, next August we’ll have another group of ewe lambs for the sale. Hopefully we will start seeing a few more ewe lambs appear in the coming weeks.”