The hill sheep unit run by Fergus Mullan is situated in the shadow of Carntogher Mountain in the North Sperrins. To any visitor, the area is one of great scale and beauty, but as with all hill farming, conditions can be harsh and present many challenges over the course of a winter and early spring.
Coupled with this challenge from nature, Fergus also runs his flock of traditional Perth type Blackface ewes on a low input self-care system with the vast majority of ewes lambing themselves on the hill. “We do have housing available if conditions get very severe,” says Fergus. “But we strive to allow almost all of our ewes to lamb themselves in more sheltered lambing paddocks. We have found over the years that having a good cover of grass in the lambing paddocks is a significant help in minimising losses, if ewes are able to consume good intakes of grass without having to continuously stray from the newborn lamb it can reduce early life mortality.”
Two other factors are also of a great focus on the Mullan farm with regard to getting best results from their self-care system;
1. Genetics - The mothering ability of the Blackface is well recognised and ideally suited to the hill and easy-care lambing system, however – as with all breeds - there is variation within the breed. Ewes are selected year after year with their mothering ability in mind and over the generations this is a key driver in ensuring ewes are continually being bred towards suiting the system.
2. Nutrition - When lambing intervention is being kept to a minimum, it is vital to ensure ewes lamb down with adequate amounts of high-quality colostrum. Fergus starts feeding Thompsons’ Sheep Rolls approximately a week after scanning which is normally around the 6th to 8th of February and continuing right through for approximately eight weeks to the point of lambing, which starts around the 8th of April. Single bearing ewes are started at 0.25kg and are fed this level right through the eight-week period. Twin bearing ewes are lifted to 0.5kg from six weeks out. Fergus says this is the system that works for him. “I am very conscious of the importance of getting lambs off to a good start and the role that high levels of Vitamin E and Selenium play in this. I have found that the Sheep Rolls fed on the ground, work extremely well for us in achieving this.”
This year Thompsons’ Sheep Rolls, as well as other selected key rations in the Thompsons’ Sheep Range also include the new Availa ZS mineral package of Availa Zinc and Availa Selenium, providing pregnant ewes with an enhanced supply of these of these two essential trace minerals. “Colostrum quality and lamb vigour are vital in our system and the new Availa ZS in this year’s ration is a positive enhancement backed up with sound research,” adds Fergus.
There is a very intense nature to lambing season on the Mullan farm, with 97% of their several hundred ewes lambing within a 17-day period, at a lambing percentage in previous years of 160-165%. It’s a busy period but attention to detail both in the long term with regard to breeding and in the short term with regard to nutrition, ensure this system continues to work for Fergus going forward.
We would like to thank Fergus for allowing us to view and discuss his system and we wish him and all sheep producers a successful season going forward. If you would like to discuss the performance of your flock, contact your local Thompsons’ representative or get in touch with us directly.
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