Grass driving output on top Offaly sheep farm


The Matthews fed no meal this spring, despite the terrible conditions. With 2.2 lambs/ewe on the ground, this high-output flock utilises every blade of grass grown.

Grass driving output on top Offaly sheep farm

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The Matthews fed no meal this spring, despite the terrible conditions. With 2.2 lambs/ewe on the ground, this high-output flock utilises every blade of grass grown.

Ken Matthews, and his son Richard hosted the Teagasc sheep farm grass walk yesterday on their farm in Killeigh, Co. Offaly.

With some exceptional figures in terms of output, Ken highlighted this is all achieved through grass, and not with meal. An output of 826 kg/ha was recorded in 2017.

On 67.9ha, the Matthews operate a mid-season lamb and tillage enterprise, with 44ha dedicated to grass.

The mid-season flock of 325 ewes are stocked at 8.84 ewes/ha (ewes and lambs).

Performance to date in 2018: scanning rate 2.47 lambs/ewe, with currently 2.2 lambs/ewe (including pets) on the ground.

Using the prolific Belclare breed, the flock way exceeds national figures of 1.8 lambs/ewe scanned and 1.5 lambs/ewe reared.

Home-bred replacements are kept from Suffolk ewes bought in and are lambed as yearlings. Performance figures are relatively high, with 1.53 lambs/ewe scanned and 1.2 lambs/ewe on the ground.

Speaking at the event, Teagasc advisors highlighted that with the stocking rate and the number of lambs on the ground, the farm needs to grow good quality grass all the way through the season.

Paddock grazing system

The use of paddocks helps the father-and-son team manage grass growth and utilisation on the farm.

They work with temporary wire netting, which can be easily taken down/put up when needed. Ken highlighted the advantage of this when it came to making silage.

The advantages of using paddock grazing:

  • Improves grass utilisation and production, by utilising grass at the right stage and at the highest quality;
  • Improves animal performance, as sheep are constantly being moved into leafy, fresh grass. Leaf content is directly related to digestibility;
  • Greater control over when you graze the plant.

According to Teagasc, the principle behind paddock grazing is: grow it in about 21 days and graze it in three days and then move on. If the sheep are still in the field three days later, grass growth will be depressed.

Paddock grazing example:

A 100-ewe flock, stocked at 10 ewe/ha, use, ideally, five grazing paddocks of 2ha each.

Speaking at the event, Teagasc advisors explained that you want to be putting sheep into a paddock with a cover of 7-8cm, or 1200kg DM/ha, as this will provide the demand of 100 ewes for three days.

“The amount of grass growing on the farm at the moment is phenomenal. That’s where the paddocks and temporary divisions are coming into their own.

“The Matthews have better control if grass is getting too strong and if quality is deteriorating. They can make the decision to speed up the rotation and keep the best grass in front of the sheep,” a Teagasc representative explained.

Grazing management post-weaning

Implementing a leader-follower system post-weaning has many advantages.

  • Lambs access grass first, grazing to 6cm.
  • Ewes used to clean out paddocks down to 4cm, to maintain quality for the next rotation.
  • Keeps grass fresh, resulting in improved performance.

Sheep are starting to move through paddocks quicker in the last number of weeks because lambs are starting to eat more and are beginning to compete with the ewe for grass. Flock demand increases up to weaning.

Advice from Teagasc - Prioritise grass supply for lambs, in order to wean by 14 weeks.

Grass measurement and budgeting

Many people think grass measuring is not something they can do, nor want to, but any form of grass measurement will aid in how you run the farm and how you make decisions.

Simply walking the farm and seeing what’s there, is the first step.

Removing surplus at this time of the year can help meet fodder requirement, and the Matthews take advantage of any surplus they get.

While the yield may be lower, the bales are of high quality, 75+ DMD, because it is cut in its leafy, vegetative stage.

When covers exceed 2000kg DM/ha, or 10cm sward height, consider taking out for silage, Teagasc advises.

A sward height of 13, with a cover of 2700kg DM/ha, will yield 13.5 bales/ha. That’s 27 high-quality bales from a 2ha paddock. And considering the long winter we had, farmers should seriously consider this option.

“Back in April any farmer would have been glad of an extra 20-30 bales,” a Teagasc representative reminded the crowd.

The Offaly farmers use typhon to finish lambs, with about 100 lambs sold off grass. According to Ken, 3kg liveweight gain per week and a 2-3% higher kill-out are achieved by using the crop. However, the majority of liveweight gain is from grass before weaning.

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