By Debbie James

A Welsh lamb producer is reporting fewer prolapses at lambing since establishing a self-feed silage system for pregnant ewes.

John Parry modified the lambing shed at Goitre Farm, Kerry, Newtown, where Welsh mule ewes are housing 10 weeks before lambing.

Feed barriers have been positioned on two sides of the 80 x 40-foot silage clamp in the centre on one side of the shed.

L-shaped barriers with vertical metal rods are set six inches apart to allow ewes to comfortably move their heads in and out of.

Covering the rods with alkathene pipe prevents the metal from catching on wool fleeces and have the added benefit to rotating to further protect against rubbing.

Clamp height is set at four feet to prevent the silage being pulled out at the base and risk the face collapsing. Sheep can’t eat higher than this, Mr Parry points out.

The clamp must also comply with silage slurry and agricultural fuel oil (SSAFO) storage regulations.

The silage is covered with a double layer of plastic wrap topped with netting and tyres to deter vermin.

Triplet, twin and single-bearing ewes are run as one group of 500 for the first six to seven weeks of housing.

Ten days before lambing, the shed is divided in two to allow the triplets and singles to be removed from the self-feed system, to allow preferential feeding of the triplets and for intakes to be restricted in the singles.

For these groups, silage is removed from the top of the pit with a shear grab and fed in troughs in a yard with a 19 per cent protein blend.

Mr Parry describes the flock’s performance on the self-feed system as “faultless’’.

“We have seen a huge drop in the number of ewes with prolapse because they don’t gorge on the silage, it is always in front of them.

Before the system was introduced, in a typical year there was an average of 20 cases of prolapse but now there are around five.

Mr Parry says labour savings are significant compared to providing fodder in a feed passage.

It takes around 15 minutes a day to move the barriers – they are pushed forward two to three inches a day, mostly once a day but occasionally twice.

Making pit silage instead of big bale silage is another cost saving, Mr Parry adds.

Mr Parry aims for a dry matter of 25-28 per cent, harvesting silage for the sheep in one cut at the beginning of June when the grass is still young and of good quality; at the end of that month a second crop is cut for his herd of 65 suckler cattle.

“Making good quality forage is one of the most important things we can do,’’ he says.

Another consideration when adapting to self-feed is pen size.

Mr Parry lambs the twins in a group of 150 because they all need access to the face.

“Some farmers might not think that would work for them but you couldn’t run this system with smaller pens. It works for us because at lambing time there is someone in the shed 24 hours a day.’’

The gateways should be wide, he advises.

“We have some big groups so the gateways need to be big enough to prevent the pregnant ewes knocking themselves when they are going in and out of the shed to the yard because sheep have a tendency to all want to get through a gap at the same time.’’