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Saturday 10 December 2016

Analysis highlights scope for higher stocking rates

Increasing flock numbers to 10 ewes/ha can significantly increase gross margins

Tom Coll

Published 20/01/2016 | 02:30

The record rainfall levels in December forced Sean to take immediate action to provide winter housing for some of the flock.
The record rainfall levels in December forced Sean to take immediate action to provide winter housing for some of the flock.

January is the month to evaluate the positives and the negatives of the previous year and set goals for the year ahead.

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As in previous years Sean Conway has used the technology tools available to analyse how his sheep enterprise in Ballymote, at the foot of Knocknashee in Co Sligo has performed over the past year and to highlight areas where improvements can be made.

The Teagasc e-Profit monitor, Pasture base paddock summary sheet, silage analysis results and scanning results will form the basis for assessing performance in 2015.

The Teagasc e-Profit monitor results for Sean Conway's sheep enterprise for 2014 and 2015 are outlined in table 1.The increase in gross margin per ewe in 2015 when compared to 2014 was a result of an increase in output per ewe.

This was achieved with an increase in weaning percentage, an increase in kgs of output per ewe and higher lamb price.

In the previous article we showed that Sean's average lamb price in 2015 was €100.32 compared to €95.76 in 2014. Sean's aim is to increase the output per ewe and to maintain the variable costs at their current level of €70 per ewe.

The 2016 scanning figures of 2.00 lambs per ewe mated when compared to 1.80 in the previous two years shows that he is on track to increase weaning percentage, market price will ultimately determine overall output per ewe provided he can achieve similar lamb growth rates as in previous years.

The gross margin figure achieved in 2015 is comparable to the gross margins per ewe achieved in the Teagasc Research flocks in Athenry.

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As highlighted in previous articles, the overall stocking rate on the farm is quite low at 6.21 ewes to the ram per Ha.

By increasing stocking rate to 10 ewes per ha and with further improvement in gross margin per ewe Sean could increase the gross margin per ha from €509 to €900 plus. The lowest stocking rate at the Teagasc Sheep Research farm in Athenry is currently 10 ewes per ha.

Pasture base

The Pasture Base programme allows Sean to compare the total amount of grass that each paddock has grown in 2015. Graph 2 shows the comparison between paddocks.

Paddock 10 has grown 14t of grass DM compared to the average of all paddocks at 6.7t of grass DM and paddock six which has grown just over 2t of grass DM. Paddock 10 has been reseeded three years ago and paddock six is old pasture.

The variation in paddock grass yields on Sean's farm is common on all sheep farms. The holding is of heavy soil type by nature and based on soil analysis results Sean applied lime to paddocks in 2014.

Total fertiliser applied in 2015 was equivalent to 20 units or 10Kg of nitrogen per ewe.

The annual requirement in grass dry matter per ewe is around 850kgs according to Teagasc research carried out in Athenry.

Sheep farmers need to grow a least one ton of grass dry matter per ewe at 85pc utilisation to satisfy requirements.

Sean grew 1.08t of grass DM per ewe or 6.7t per ha which was sufficient at his current stocking rate of 6.21 ewes per ha. It would be uneconomical to grow grass that cannot be utilised by stock on the farm.

However, if he increases stocking rate to 10 ewes/ha Sean needs to grow around 10t of grass dry matter per ha.

To do this under any performing old pastures may need to be reseeded, lime and P and K levels need to be at index 3 or better.

He will also have to increase nitrogen application in line with the increase in ewe numbers ie apply 10-12 kgs of nitrogen per ewe per annum. As in previous years silage harvested in the form of round bales from paddocks where covers were too high for grazing has resulted in high quality silage available for winter feeding. Silages made in 2015 ranged in quality from 70-76pc DMD.

Tom Coll is a Teagasc drystock and business advisor based in Mohill, Co Leitrim

Quick action on winter housing

In the previous article I mentioned that Sean was considering whether or not to erect a new sheep house. Prevailing weather conditions and record rainfall levels for December left paddocks extremely difficult to graze with poor utilisation.

This forced Sean to take immediate action to provide winter housing for some of the flock.

A cubicle house with a solid scrapped passage formerly used for dairy cows has been converted into sheep housing. Plastic sheep slats raised 35 cm above the floor were put in place by Sean and his sons in late December.

Adjustable barriers and pen divisions were made from two-inch box iron. The ewes are stocked at 1.1m2 slatted area per ewe and 0.45m feed space per ewe.

The biggest problem that Sean envisaged having with the new conversion was that his silage bales were not chopped and that ewes would pull in the silage and block the openings in the slats.

Having consulted with John O'Connell the Teagasc Sheep BETTER farm in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, both men visited Philip and Angela Larkin in Loughrea in Co Galway who had themselves solved the problem. Similar to the system used on the Larkin farm Sean has since made up a frame of 3 inch square mesh which goes on top of the silage and prevents the ewes from pulling it into the pen.

According to Sean the best ideas are those you see working well for other farmers when you visit their farms.

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