Winter 2023/2024 seems to be the gift that keeps on giving in relation to the weather, with near constant rain interspersed with frequent hurricanes and the odd blizzard.

We have had multiple floods with last week’s one causing the burn below the steading to burst its banks, which is the first time this winter, and only the third time in the 25 years we have been at Ballicherry.

Fields are saturated yet again, meaning we haven’t started any ploughing. Hopefully, we’ll get a drier spell and can get going at the end of this week.

We have been firming up our rotation for the year, with a substantial increase in the amount of C2 Sassy spring barley seed we’re going to grow, and a slight increase in the amount of C1 Maronis spring barley seed. Over the last few weeks, we have had the seed dresser in and have dressed roughly 300t of seed on farm, with four loads remaining which are destined to go bulk to a static dressing plant.

Base fertiliser for the spring barley is all in stock now, and solid nitrogen and potash have been ordered as we await the ground to dry up before application onto oilseed rape and winter wheat to get them going again.

READ MORE | Rachel Young talks fertiliser and lamb prices at Ballincherry

As we’ve been unable to get on with any real arable work, time has been spent tidying up windfall trees, with a groundworks contractor taking larger trees back to the yard to cut for firewood and chipping branches.

On the livestock front, our ewes scanned at 197% which sounds good but I wasn’t particularly happy with it due to the increase in barren ewes from 2% the previous year to 4%, and an increase in triplets from 18% to 22%. However, the singles percentage was down from 21% to 17% which was pleasing.

Anyone with sheep knows how much more work it is keeping a triplet-bearing ewe healthy during pregnancy, and the increased after care required for both ewe and lambs, along with the costs associated with rearing pet lambs.

I spoke with the vet about the increased barren rate who advised that we may be wise to get the empties blood tested to see if we have either a disease or mineral/trace element deficiency present in the flock.

Fortunately, tests have come back as not having found anything untoward, and we therefore think the higher barren rate is due to the bad weather at tupping and some ewes being over fat.

READ MORE | Rachel Young badly affected by the weather

We plan to start feeding the ewes concentrates this week, which is particularly important for the triplets and thinner twin-bearing ewes that have been grouped together.

However, feeding ewe rolls via a snacker on the ground is unlikely to be very efficient when the ground is so wet.

The fittest twin-bearing ewes (110) are currently grazing the first crop of fodder beet we’ve grown, and have taken a surprisingly long time to start eating it. We thought the issue would be them gorging on it and becoming unwell, but the main issue has actually been encouraging them to eat it. The shaws of the fodder beet have been badly frosted and this has led to them being soggy, brown, and unpalatable, so it has taken them three weeks to start eating it fully.

Having spoken to an advisor at SAC about our soggy shaws, it was felt the beet is now likely lacking in protein, so we need to supplement these ewes with a small amount of ewe rolls, 150g/head/day.

Given the small amount of feed and current ground conditions, this is going to be difficult, so we really need the weather to dry up.

In the next 10 days, we will be taking ewes in for their Heptavac and Scabivax vaccinations, along with body condition scoring. Anything that is losing condition will be removed from the fodder beet and put into either the triplet and thin-twin group.

READ MORE | Rachel Young shares her horrendously wet autumn

Gimmers in good condition are receiving ad-lib silage and will get 400g/day of ewe rolls, and will also have access to Rumenco Lifeline buckets which we use for the last six weeks before lambing.

I myself am due to ‘lamb’ in the middle of March, with a due date just four days before the ewes, so we have taken on paid lambers this year to cover me, as opposed to taking in vet students as we usually do.

Fingers crossed this leads to an increase in lamb survival, and a decrease in moaning from ‘mam’ about her lambing induced joint pain!