Sheep farmers should have their silage tested as a matter of priority, according to Teagasc sheep specialist Frank Hynes.

Speaking on the organisation’s December sheep advisory podcast he specifically highlighted the reduction in forage quality that will pose challenges over the coming weeks for Irish sheep farmers with ewes in mid pregnancy.

“The testing we have carried out indicates that the silages made on Irish sheep farms this year have an average DMD value of 65. In reality, it takes forages with a DMD value of plus 70 to meet the nutritional requirements of ewes in mid pregnancy,” he said.

“Maintaining body condition score is the key priority for breeding ewes at this time of year. Some farmers are happy to ease off the level of feeding offered to their flocks in the run up to Christmas and early New Year. And this is fair enough, provided the ewes do not lose condition. If they are too thin at lambing, ewes will not have enough milk to feed their new borns. In addition, lambs born to ewes with insufficient flesh cover tend to lack thrive.”

Teagasc advisors are currently encouraging sheep farmers to ensure they have sufficient grass for their freshly lambed ewes next Spring.

“Pastures need a four month period without grazing pressure to ensure they have enough cover to meet the needs of ewes post lambing,” Hynes commented.

“Initial stocking rates should be in the order of 12 ewes per hectare. If there is a sufficient grassland area to meet this requirement now, then land that is surplus to this need can be grazed out over the coming weeks. Otherwise, flocks should be offered silage.

“On farms where forage DMD values are lower than 70, supplementary concentrates should be offered to ensure that ewes do not lose condition. The details of the types of ration that can be fed and specific feeding rates can be discussed with Teagasc sheep advisors.”

Teagasc advisors are also highlighting the growing threat of Liver Fluke at the present time.

“Despite the fact that it has been a dry year, there was an underlying fluke problem throughout the grazing season,” Frank Hynes said.

“This was confirmed by the meat factories courtesy of the issues identified in the livers of some lambs post slaughter. The weather has turned wet over recent weeks, thereby increasing the risk of fluke-related problems for ewe flocks still out at grass. We are strongly advising flock owners to discuss this issue with their vets as a matter of some priority.”