independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Demand high for prolific ewe lambs and hoggets

With the turn of the month all the focus now is on breeding sheep and breeding sales. I am heavily involved in two different breeding sheep groups in Mayo -- the Mayo Blackface and the Mayo Mule and Greyface groups.

The latter are organising their 28th annual sale on August 31 where, approximately 2,000 ewe lambs and 700 ewe hoggets will be on offer. I have 100 mule ewe lambs for sale on the day.

I have reared them specifically for this event as there has been a good demand for them in the past. They have all been vaccinated against clostridial diseases and they got their booster shot last week.

They were all dipped yesterday with a winter dip, which I hope will ensure their skin will be clear and in good condition.

Our group specialises in producing prolific ewe lambs and hoggets with an aim to supply a good quality ewe for lowland producers.

Specialised sales attract many customers from all over the country and, if repeat sales are anything to go by, customers have been happy with their purchases over the years.

There are three main options for the customers to look at:

Option 1: Buy a ewe hogget and breed her with the aim of achieving more than 1.7-2.0 lambs per ewe in spring. This is the traditional option, as most people intend to breed ewes at one year old and to have lambs the following spring.

It allows the ewe to be stronger than if she was bred in her first year as a lamb.

Option 2: Many farmers now breed ewe lambs in their first year. This option is only available when ewe lambs are of a certain strength.

Any lambs I breed or sell in their first year are a minimum of 45kg at breeding, 50kg being better again. My experience with these is that the stronger the ewe lamb is at mating the more lambs she will produce in the spring.

The less difficulty she has lambing and breeding keeps costs down. If lambs are fed and managed correctly they are able to produce 1- 1.4 lambs per ewe.

By breeding them it reduces the costs of wintering them and when the next breeding season comes around you have a cheap replacement which has paid for, or at least nearly paid for itself.

You also have an experienced mother who has reared lambs and should have no problems the coming year.

Option 3: The third option is to purchase and carry over lambs for the winter and either sell or hold on to them as replacement ewes.

Last year a neighbour of mine had a great return by buying ewe lambs at the sale and then selling them the following year as ewe hoggets.

Between buying the ewe lambs and selling them as hoggets he had a gross margin of €95 per head.

This is a labour-saving option and is suited to a farmer who is working and does not have much time to look after ewes and lambs.

This year I also had plenty of enquiries from pedigree sheep farmers from across the country looking for mule ewes and mule ewe hoggets for transferring embryos from pedigree ewes.

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Pedigree Texel, Suffolk, Charolais and Blue-faced Leicester breeders have all enquired about mule ewes because the mule is a roomy ewe for this process and has no difficulty lambing large pedigree lambs.

They are also good mothers when lambed down and have an abundance of milk for the pedigree lambs to thrive and grow.

I am confident that the trade for breeding sheep will be good this season with perhaps a slight drop in prices compared to previous years.

However, I imagine that the early breeding sales will not be as strong as other years with grass supplies around the country so tight.

Tom Staunton runs a flock of 350 ewes on 55ha on the shores of Lough Mask at Tournakeady, Co Mayo

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