Sheep farmers throughout Ireland are reporting a very high number of lambs born this year, prompting the belief that the 2014 Irish lamb crop could be one of the highest on record – when assessed on the basis of the number of lambs born per ewe. Also of significance, is the fact that average lamb weights seem to be heavier than would normally be the case.

A significant number of crossbred lowland flocks had previously been reported to be carrying in excess of 2 lambs per ewe at scanning. However, the subsequent mild winter and the current availability of good grazing has meant that ewes have lambed down well, with the vast majority of lambs born alive.

This extremely high level of fertility is being attributed to the excellent grazing conditions last backend and the fact that breeding ewes were under very little weather and/or nutritional stress throughout pregnancy.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that lambing rates have reached record levels this year,” Teagasc drystock specialist Michael Fitzgerald told AgriLand.

“This figure might be slightly lower in the South East due to the fact that drought conditions did take a hold late last summer and into the early autumn.”

The Enniscorthy-based advisor went on to point out that new season lambs are thriving extremely well, particularly on those farms where grass is plentiful.

“I know that January born lambs are gaining up to 300 grammes of liveweight per day at the present time,” he added.

“A significant number of these will be aimed at the Easter market. In fact I had heard that a number of early born single lambs were killed in the run up to the St Patrick’s Day weekend. It will be interesting to hear what prices they made.”

Fitzgerald continued: “Thankfully, sheep farmers in the South East have not had a Schmallenberg epidemic to deal with this year. Although, I have heard that the problem has reared its head on some cattle farms in this area.”

Grass availability will be the key factor in driving lamb growth rates over the coming weeks. Ground conditions have improved country-wide over recent days. However a return to more wintry conditions next weekend will be a concern to sheep farmers with large numbers of lambs on the ground.