By Jim Logan

They say, 'a week is a long time in politics', but every so often, in all walks of life, we endure conditions and hardship for a short period, which at the time, seem to go on forever.

The first Monday and Tuesday, and to a lesser degree the rest of that first week in May was without doubt a case in point. The horrendous weather conditions and resulting losses for those of us still busy with lambing and calving have been well documented.

Thanks must go to our team at Pirntaton, who put in a colossal effort, resulting in the housing of scores more ewes with lambs that may well have succumbed. With more than 150 newly lambed ewes housed at the peak, the relatively low number of subsequent problems with those lambs is testament to the effort put into colostrum management and pen hygiene by our young team, even when our own version of the NHS was nearly overwhelmed by so many 'patients'.

The fact that everyone kept smiling and the offers of help from neighbours were positives to be taken from the week. The spring, or lack of, in 2021, will be added to the fast-growing list of extreme weather statistics.

With the benefit of hindsight and experience, we can now look back on that period, especially those two days, and take an objective look at the outcomes. On doing so, we can quickly realise that there were many positives, as well as the glaring negatives.

Our outdoor lambing system will always be 'in the lap of the Gods' as far as the weather is concerned, however in reality, the same applies to most other systems where a large number of ewes lamb in a short space of time, the problems and challenges are only slightly different.

The extended period of awful weather at this time of year is almost unprecedented; we can only hope that it does not become the norm. The system was most definitely bent, but not broken. Apart from a short period, the losses were confined to animals or lines, that had probably sneaked below the radar in previous years.

Lambing ease, lamb vigour, mothering ability and a plentiful supply of milk are the key components. A weakness in any one of them is no recipe for success in such conditions. Effort will be re-doubled in identifying and drafting out these animals over the summer and will find them demoted into our 'B mob', which are all mated with terminal sires.

The results of applying such attention to detail, over a long period was very evident in what I considered to be the most impressive flock visited by myself and good friend Graeme Lofthouse on our 2018 study tour of NZ. For more than 30 years, the Coopworth flock of the Carthew family had been selected and culled on their ability to wean a good pair of lambs every year. The time was taken for every ewe to be mothered up at weaning, with lamb weights, quality and consistency assessed.

Only those deemed to have succeeded were retained for further breeding. The results were mind blowing, with the flock consistently achieving 190% weaning rates from an un-shepherded lambing. I have personally been convinced for a while that this effort, especially in the youngest ewes, pays huge dividends.

Other positives include the ability to have got through this period without having been concerned that there wasn’t enough grass in front of the ewes and having to resort to supplementary feed. This probably would not have been the case if we had not held off from our planned pre-lambing rotation, or the decision to apply 20kgN/ha just before the ewes were set-stocked. We did however, continue to feed our triplet bearing and early April lambing stud ewes to give them a bit of help.

Although I may rethink about lambing on one or two of our higher fields, I have again been convinced of the benefit to lamb survival of lambing in the paddock system, rather than whole fields. The resultant smaller group size along with the mothering ability of the ewes kept miss-mothering to a minimum, even on the cruellest of days.

Calving is now also well under way and going fairly well, unfortunately still with the stress of an odd un-seasonally cold and wet day or night. This spring sees the first calves born in our new pedigree Hereford herd, and I look forward to having more time to study them in the sunshine shortly.

The older hinds will also be starting calving, although progress is much more difficult to track because of their habit of hiding the calves for the first week or two of their lives. Thankfully, and fingers crossed, intervention at calving time with the deer is seldom required, which does add to their appeal!

Shutting off silage, reseeding and the sowing of winter crops have all been held up, but with an improvement in the weather imminent, everybody is ready and raring to go.