Sheep farming - news

Latest news for farmers in relation to sheep farming.

Need to buy sheep dip?

Kevin O’Donnell  CAFRE, Greenmount Campus, Short Course Manager

If you want to dip your sheep, you will have to buy sheep dip. If you want to buy sheep dip, you will have to get a Certificate of Competence in the Safe Use of Sheep Dips.

CAFRE, Greenmount Campus is planning, to deliver a Safe Use of Sheep Dips course for delivery in early October.

The course concentrates on keeping yourself, others and your environment safe from the chemicals used. It also covers the following topics:

  • knowledge of the parasites to be controlled
  • looking after your sheep at dipping
  • the dip products that can be used
  • what makes a good sheep dipper

Seamus O’Neill runs a Beef and Sheep farm in Martinstown. He got his Certificate by attending a course in 2013.

“I like to dip my sheep as I feel they thrive better afterwards,” says Seamus. He also added, “The course was pretty much common sense as I’ve been involved in dipping sheep for some time, but you always pick-up something new. One thing it did do was reduce my health concerns about using dip by showing me what protective gear to wear.”

If you would like to attend the Safe Use of Sheep Dips course being organised by CAFRE, Greenmount Campus, please register your interest online - or contact Industry Training Admin at Greenmount, telephone: 028 9442 6880. 

Lambing gets off to a great start
Spring lamb

Lambing has begun on Tony McGrath’s farm in Brantry, Dungannon. His 20 ewe Hampshire flock was sponged and artificially inseminated in July and has recently lambed down with a lambing percentage of 170 percent.

Tony’s flock, established three years ago, has already enjoyed tremendous success and received numerous rosettes this year at Balmoral show.  Mindful that he must also produce sheep for the commercial breeder, Tony places a strong emphasis on selecting rams with high Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) and has one of the highest indexed flocks in the country. His aim is to sell rams which can produce commercial lambs capable of finishing at 10-12 weeks of age.

Tony firmly believes that feeding ewes the correct concentrate prior to lambing is the key to good lamb survival, viability and profitability.
Although there have been ample grass supplies this Autumn, a good quality ewe concentrate is essential for ewes pre-lambing. This ensures good supplies of colostrum, fast growing lambs and reduced twin lamb disease.

Twin suckling ewes receive around one kg of concentrate per day, which continues for around eight weeks until peak lactation has passed. Ewe concentrate is then reduced with more emphasis being placed on creep feeding the lambs.

Brian Hanthorn from CAFRE has guided and advised Tony on what to look out for in a good ewe ration as well as the feeding regime. Brian recommends examining the feed label in detail. Soya bean meal and cereals should feature strongly on the list and avoid the cheaper filler ingredients which can reduce milk yields. If you are interested in finding out more about pre-lambing feeding or would like to attend a short information course on this subject you can contact Martina Donnelly on 028 8775 4771 or Brian Hanthorn 07881550865.

Need to Buy Sheep Dip?

Kevin O’Donnell  CAFRE, Greenmount Campus Short Course Manager

Want to dip your sheep? Need to buy sheep dip? Then you’ll need a Certificate of Competence in the Safe Use of Sheep Dips to do so. Now is the time to book your place on an accredited “Safe Use of Sheep Dips” course being organized by CAFRE, Greenmount Campus for delivery in early October.

The course concentrates on keeping yourself, others and your environment safe from the chemicals used. It also covers the following topics:

  • knowledge of the parasites to be controlled
  • looking after your sheep at dipping
  • the dip products that can be used
  • what makes a good sheep dipper

John Holden, Larne runs a Sheep Shower business. He got his Certificate by attending a course in 2012. “The main reason to attend the course was to get the certificate so I could buy sheep dip. However in the process I got to know all the pros and cons of using dip and protecting myself from it. I found the topic on the disposal of dip interesting. Thankfully the volumes I have for disposal using the Sheep Shower are a lot less”.

If you would like further information on or would like an application form for the Safe use of Sheep Dips course being organised by CAFRE, Greenmount Campus please contact Jennifer Ball at Greenmount, telephone: 028 9442 6879.

David Henderson, Cappy, Tamlaght, Enniskillen

By William Johnston, Beef & Sheep Development Adviser, Co Fermanagh

David farms 96 ha of heavy clay land located five miles east of Enniskillen.  The farm carries over 90 Simmental X Limousin suckler cows and 50 Suffolk X ewes.  The cows are calved in two batches, February/March and May/June.  The male calves are sold off the farm at 9 – 10 months of age and the heifers are sold as maidens for breeding stock at 18 months of age or in calf at 2.5 years old.  Simmental and Charolais bulls are used with specific cows selected for AI with Limousin semen taken from a former stock bull.  On average 12 – 15 heifers are brought into the herd as replacements.  The ewes are tupped using Rouge and Charollais rams and lamb between 10 April and 10 May.  The lambing percentage was 180 percent in 2013.


Usually the February/March calvers are turned out as they calve down and the majority of other cattle are at grass by the end of March.

This year the cows and calves were at grass during March but had to be rehoused at night due to the cold weather and poor growing conditions.   
As ground conditions deteriorated in early April the stock were re-housed only returning to grass on the 23 May.

Yearling heifers would normally be at grass from late March but this year turnout was delayed until late May.

In early June all cattle were out except for 40 springing cows which are due to calve by 20 June

Silage Stocks

David would normally have a full pit of silage remaining at turnout which is used if stock have to be re-housed at any stage during the grazing period.

However as the cattle were in the house for an additional two months last winter, David is now left with a half pit of silage.  

Grassland Management

  • silage fields (100 acres for first cut) were sowed in early April and the grazing ground sowed mid April
  • sheep were moved from the silage area on 6 April prior to sowing
  • David found that the sheep helped to keep the grass covers on the grazing fields under control when the ground conditions were too poor to allow turnout of cattle
  • David practices rotational grazing with electric fences used to subdivide larger fields from turnout
  • 3.5 ha of the grazing area which had got too heavy for grazing was baled on 1 June with 6 bales / acre harvested.

First Cut Silage

  • after a show stat David plans to harvest the first cut around 10 June weather permitting
  • the second cut silage area is usually 50 acres but David plans to cut 65 acres this year by increasing his fertiliser applications on the grazing area to free up the additional land for silage with the aim of rebuilding fodder stocks on the farm.


David is keen to turn stock out as early as possible and maximise the number of days at grass but the exceptional difficult spring has meant a much longer housing period.

David aims to have silage available on the farm for 12 months of the year as stock have been rehoused at some point in most years to protect the grazing area from damage.

Grazing swards damaged last summer are not in a position to take any more poaching this season and careful management is required.
David is hopeful that even with a later turnout this spring his stock will be able to stay out longer in the autumn than last year.

On an on-going basis David will keep a check on fodder supplies against planned stock numbers and he will take action early if he needs to.

Launch of sustainable farming in the LFAs events

George Mathers CAFRE

The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) together with leading land based organisations are organising two events for farmers who farm in the LFAs (less favoured areas) and the planned dates and venues are:

  • Greenmount Hill Farm, Glenwherry Tuesday 24 September 2013
  • Russell Scott’s Farm, Newtownstewart Thursday 26 September 2013

As farming in the LFAs is reliant on cattle and sheep production with incomes supported by Single Farm Payment, LFACA and Agri-Environment Schemes these events will help farmers to:

  • look at ways to improve their livestock production systems
  • manage their land to maintain its eligibility for single farm payment
  • identify how to make the most of agri-environment schemes
  • highlight the importance of livestock in the management of LFA’s

Greenmount Hill farm, Glenwherry, was purchased by the college 50 years ago this year and so this is a fitting point at which to highlight the work currently being undertaken with respect to development of its livestock enterprises and to enhance the environment.

Our venue in the west is at Russell Scott’s farm, Gortin.  Russell is a previous winner of the Sheep Farmer of the Year competition and he has also availed fully of agri-environment schemes to develop a wildlife corridor and carry out hedge restoration on his farm.

We look forward to seeing you at one of these events in September.

Important changes to the movement of sheep through markets and export assembly centres

Important changes to the movement of sheep through markets and export assembly centres – Check your Sheep Flock register Online

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is advising flock keepers of important changes that will take place from 3 June 2013.
From this date, any sheep presented for sale in a market or for export via an export assembly centre (EAC) must be registered on APHIS in the keeper’s flock. Sheep that are not recorded in the keeper’s flock on APHIS cannot be accepted by the market or EAC.

All flock keepers MUST ensure that sheep are registered in their flock. You can confirm this in advance of the sale or export by:

  • logging to your APHIS Online account and select your Sheep flock number
  • select the Animal Doc Link function
  • check that any animals you wish to sell has the status “Used” for animal tag numbers previously bought in or “Unused” for home bred animals. Some home bred animal tag numbers may be listed as “Used” if they have already been registered online

If the animal tag number is not listed please contact your local DARD Direct office.

DARD is asking that all flock-keepers read ear tags accurately and to ensure that all records and checks are made to ensure full sheep traceability. 

Managing ewes and lambs during extreme weather

By Don Morrow, Senior Beef and Sheep Adviser, CAFRE

The recent extreme weather is causing severe disruption and distress on many sheep farms, especially where lambing is on-going or about to commence. The following are some pointers aimed at helping sheep farmers through this difficult time.


Where sheep are isolated and some sheep farms still inaccessible, feed resources are becoming scarce. Ewes ideally need a mix of forage and concentrates, especially if they are hungry. An initial feed of silage or hay before feeding concentrates will help to reduce digestive stress.  It is important to avoid ewes suddenly getting access to a large amount of cereal based concentrates as this can cause ruminal acidosis and possibly death.  Offer concentrates in a number of small feeds (200 grams) ensuring there is ample feeding space. This will reduce the stress on the animals. Where ewes are hungry it is advisable to initially feed a high fibre-type concentrate containing for example a high proportion of sugar beet pulp or soya hulls. Sugar beet pulp pellets can also be fed on top of snow.
If concentrate feed is limited prioritise it to late pregnant and milking sheep. Water is also very important so check that all stock have an adequate supply.

Restricted feed supplies

A 50-60 kg hogget needs five kg of silage a day for maintenance but will survive for a week with no ill effects on two kg/day.

For a Hill ewe with very little forage Table One details the amounts of concentrates which can be offered. But again remember to introduce these high levels of concentrates gradually.

  Wweeks pre-lambing Weeks pre-lambing Weeks pre-lambing Post lambing
  5-6 weeks 3-4 weeks last 2 weeks  
Concentrate (kg/ewe/day) 1.0 1.2 1.4 2.0

*A suitable concentrate ration would have to have a high level of sugar beet pulp or soya hulls (30%+) to avoid digestive upsets. A coarse mix of Barley (50%), Sugarbeet pulp (30%) and soyabean meal (20%) with minerals

Managing indoor space

Priority should be given to freshly lambed or lambing ewes.  During lambing keep a check on ewe numbers in each area and tighten up when appropriate. New born lambs need dry and clean conditions, so if bedding is in short supply, keep for lambing pens. Where ewes and lambs cannot be moved to the field and where straw is available it would be beneficial to bed some slatted or wire mesh areas to maintain good stock health. Wood shavings are a very effective bedding material for solid floors if straw is in short supply or straw bedded pens are getting wet and sticky.

Preventing a disease outbreak is paramount, so maintain high levels of hygiene. Always disinfect lambing pens regularly, navel dip all lambs and discuss with your local private veterinary practitioner (PVP) other preventative routine treatments that will protect lambs from disease. It would be unfortunate for lambs to survive birth in this weather and then die later from scours or navel ill related diseases.

Outdoor lambing sheep

Provide sheltered areas where possible using bales, calf creeps, trailers etc. Table 1 details the treatment of Hypothermic lambs. Contact your PVP before warming an older lamb for guidance on administering an intraperitoneal injection as warming an older lamb without giving an intraperitoneal injection of glucose can result in a lamb with brain damage. 

Table Two - Treating a hypothermic lamb
Lamb temperature
Age Treatment
37-39°C (99-102°F)
Any age Dry the lamb,
feed by stomach tube,
give shelter with the ewe,
check temperature again soon
Below 37°C, 99°F
0-5 hours Dry the lamb,
warm the lamb in a warmer until the temperature recovers to 37°C,
feed by stomach tube,
return to ewe or transfer to ‘weak lamb unit’
Below 37°C, 99°F
More than 5 hours and
able to hold up its head
Dry the lamb,
feed by stomach tube,
warm the lamb in a warmer until the temperature recovers to 37°C,
feed by stomach tube,
return to ewe or transfer to ‘weak lamb unit’
Below 37°C, 99°F
More than 5 hours and
not able to hold up its
Dry the lamb,
give intraperitoneal injection of glucose,
warm the lamb in a warmer until the temperature recovers to 37°C,
feed by stomach tube,
return to ewe or transfer to ‘weak lamb unit’

If you need help or advice please contact the DARD helpline on 0300 200 7852.

Building a Profitable Sheep Business

Neville Graham, Senior CAFRE Beef and Sheep Technologist

The Cafre sheep conference, part of the centenary celebrations was held on Wednesday 5 December at Greenmount Campus.  Over 200 farmers, students and industry personnel attended the event which was held in conjunction with industry partners NSA, LMC, Afbi and Agrisearch.

The morning commenced with a tour of the 180 ewe Abbey flock at the beef and Sheep Development Centre. Neville Graham, Senior Beef & Sheep Technologist outlined two years physical and financial results for the flock, which is based on New Zealand Genetics and is part of the Marks and Spencers Pacesetter Project.

Abbey Flock Performance to weaning 2011 and 2012 years
  Lambs weaned
/ ewe mated
Weaning weight KG
(adjusted to 112 days)
Growth rate
grams / day
Ewe efficiency
figure *
2011 1.75 32.75 240 0.83
2012 1.67 29.75 210 0.73

* ewe efficiency figure is kg of lamb weaned /kg of ewe mated.

Abbey Flock Performance weaning to slaughter 2011 and 2012 to date
  Average carcase
weight KG
2011 19.9 70% R
30% O
(92% 3&4L)
2012 20.3 90% R
10% O
(97% 3&4L)

Albert Johnston, Senior Grassland Technologist highlighted the flocks grazing management and the fluke and worm policy following a difficult 2012 grazing season.

Seamus McMenamin LMC concluded with an overview of the 2012 lamb market and predicted market conditions in 2013.

Following lunch sponsored by Dunbia, the afternoon conference concentrated on Afbi research into upland and lowland breeding strategies to increase lamb numbers and use of recording to select replacement females, delivered by Dr Alistair Carson. Two farmers, local man and ex Cafre student, Russell Scott Co. Tyrone and Michael Blanche, Perth, Scotland gave their viewpoints on managing their flocks to achieve profit.

Two very different systems were described with both focusing on recording and grassland management to maximise their resources.

Paul Mchenry Senior Business Technologist concluded proceedings with his message based on the trends identified from Cafre benchmarked sheep farms. He demonstrated that the key factors leading to enhanced profit are lamb numbers sold, lamb growth rate at grass, flock replacement rate and to a lesser extent carcase grades.

James Campbell chairman of Agrisearch chaired the afternoon and the resulting question and answer session.

For those producers unable to attend the event a DVD of the afternoon speakers is available from Cafre, contact 028 9442 6770. 

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