As we edge closer to the lambing season, the next job for many farmers across the country will be to scan their ewes.

For mid-season lambing flocks, the job of scanning ewes will take place over the next few weeks leading into January 2020.

Farmers will be hoping that the breeding season was a success and won't want to have to deal with empty ewes - that would take up precious time at lambing; it would also use forage supplies.

However, the likelihood of some ewes not going in-lamb is high. Therefore, a decision has to be made on whether to keep or cull these animals.

Three options farmers have when it comes to dealing with empty ewes are: 

  • Sell them in the mart;
  • Send them to the factory;
  • Let the ram run with them again and hope that they go in-lamb (late-lambing ewes).

If there is a large proportion of ewes empty, it is important that the ram is fertility-tested - which should have been carried out before the breeding season - in order to eliminate the possibility of the ram being infertile.

If the problem lies with the ewe then it is best to cull straight away. Farmers need to be ruthless when it comes to culling ewes. Getting rid of low-performing ewes and replacing them with younger, more prolific stock will help increase the profitability of the flock.

Therefore - instead of holding onto empty ewes - a better option might be to sell them at the mart where there has been a strong demand of late or send them to the factory where there has been an increase in prices over the past month.

It is important to scan - especially if farmers want a compact lambing period - to identify ewes that are empty and to prioritise the ones that are in-lamb. 

Currently, there is a good trade for cull ewes in marts across the country. Prices for these lots peaked during the summer. However, they have remained relatively steady since then.

Market prices

Cull ewe prices range from €80/head up to €130/head. Therefore, now might be a good opportunity to sell these empty ewes instead of feeding them over the winter.

Furthermore, meat processing facilities are starting quotes for cull ewes at 270c/kg. A ewe that kills out at 40kg will return up to €108/head to the farmer at 270c/kg.

Another option - that a lot of farmers favour - is to let the ram run with the ewes again. This, in turn, results in a longer lambing period which could drag out until next May.

For farmers who want a compact lambing period, the best option is to sell any empty ewes they may have to free up fodder and space in the shed.