280 ewes lambed in three weeks

John McKavanagh farms 60 acres part time at Castor Bay on the shores of Lough Neagh. Reseeding, fencing, Lleyn Sheep and a Volac Eco Feeder maximise efficient management  of  his 280 ewe flock. Columba O'Hare Photography
John McKavanagh farms 60 acres part time at Castor Bay on the shores of Lough Neagh. Reseeding, fencing, Lleyn Sheep and a Volac Eco Feeder maximise efficient management of his 280 ewe flock. Columba O'Hare Photography

Armagh part time farmer John McKavanagh has just enjoyed the tightest lambing yet with all 280 Lleyn ewes heading back to the fields inside a month.

“When you have only two weeks annual leave set aside for lambing the pressure is on time so teaser rams are put in each autumn for a full cycle of 17 days before the rams are put out,” explained John, who farms on the Castor Bay shore of Lough Neagh near Lurgan.

Volac technician David Johnston, left, with Lurgan, Co Armagh lamb producer John McKavanagh and the Eco Feeder, which can feed up to 240 lambs. Columba O'Hare Photography

Volac technician David Johnston, left, with Lurgan, Co Armagh lamb producer John McKavanagh and the Eco Feeder, which can feed up to 240 lambs. Columba O'Hare Photography

“This year due, I think, to the autumn weather, our sheep all lambed in three weeks from February 21. That made life a lot easier as did our investment in a Förster Technik Eco Feeder from Volac, one of our best ever buys as regards improving efficiency and boosting the bottom line.

“This feeder is a tremendous management tool freeing me up to do other things in the lambing poly tunnels. Time and energy, both extra valuable during lambing, are saved.

“We have up to 60 lambs on the machine and in some cases they actually do better than some of their peers left on the ewe!

“All ewes with lambs remain inside for at least 24 hours thus ensuring they are fit to head out to grass. Apart from orphan lambs the Eco Feeder rears the surplus from multiple births or from ewes with no milk.

“Yes, there is the cost of the feeder and Lamlac milk powder, but we gain the time to focus on actual lambing. Not bottle feeding or wrestling with lambs that refuse to drink from either bottle or ewe.

“It also pays when a ewe clearly has no prospect of ever again producing enough milk to instead bring her offspring to the Eco Feeder and sell her now as a cull worth £80. Better business than taking poor money in a few months and meanwhile risk loosing a lamb.

“In the past we would have sent a ewe out with poor milk hoping for the best and nine times out of 10 the lamb struggled and you end up with a late lamb to finish off grass.

“By making an early decision to move lambs to the feeder we get the best results. Unlike bottle or bucket feeding lambs on the feeder have fresh milk available 24/7 naturally in small amounts, making scours and bloat less likely.

“The Eco Feeder from Volac mixes up half litre portions of milk as required. All fresh and with the exact same consistency and temperature,” added John, who is happy to show other farmers this feeder in operation.”

Ensuring lambs first get at least 750ml of Volostrum colostrum replacer is vital as is a very high standard of hygiene in the lambing sheds, a strong point at Loughview Farm as John is a stickler for attention to detail.

Asked why run a closed flock of pure bred Lleyn John again emphasises that a part time farmer needs sheep that lamb easily and are easy to maintain. “The Lleyn are superb mothers and need very little intervention at lambing.

“Flock owners with off farm employment need a simple system as they do not have the luxury of always being about the place. Hence our investment in the Eco Feeder, Lleyn sheep and good fencing.

“Veteran contractor Crosby Cleland of Saintfield was hired to fence our ground after reseeding and he encouraged us to look at the Lleyn, a very fertile Welsh breed that has proved ideal.

“About half our female lambs are sold as flock replacements in the yard or at Ballymena.

“The rest of the crop go to the ABP plant five minutes from here. Usually from the first week in July with almost all R and U grades, the Lleyn hitting 21kg carcass weight when off farm at 44kg.

“Thanks to our Volac Automatic Eco Feeder lamb losses are low with surplus lambs away at least as evenly finished as those left on mothers with sufficient milk and teats.

“Yes, I had concerns about making this investment, but it will yield dividends for years or even decades. There are 20 year old German made Förster Technik feeders still in daily use on local farms.

“In our first year with the Eco Feeder we have maximised live lambs delivered and safely reared.

This German engineered feeder plus Volac Volostrum and Lamlac gives lambs a formulae one start.”

For further details Freephone Volac on 0800 919808 or browse www.volac.com