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Thursday 8 December 2016

Drop in lamb prices a warning for us all

John Fagan

Published 22/07/2015 | 02:30

The drop in sheep prices will affect sheep farmers management decisions
The drop in sheep prices will affect sheep farmers management decisions

Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the sheep event in Athenry as the spectacular price drop in the lamb trade quickly focussed my mind on the job at hand.

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I weighed all my lambs and got them booked in as if I had left it for a week I would have lost almost €10 per head.

The drop caught a lot of farmers unawares and effectively undermined any positivity that might have existed in the trade.

I think that it will affect sheep farmers management decisions over the coming months as the preparations begin for lambing 2016.

If there is going to be a viable future for sheep farmers we need to have a vibrant competitive live trade. I believe that the live export trade needs a more co-ordinated approach from farmers. The exporters need in spec lambs suitable for travel that are on meal and are not lame.

This is the only way Irish sheep farmers can have some sort of say in the price of their product.

I weaned all ewes after the first draft in June and they have dried off really well.

I decided to wean the hogget ewes at the same time despite their lambs being smaller than you would normally like at weaning.

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Condition

You need to remember that a hogget ewe still has a bit to go in terms of growth so leaving the lamb on her for too long will affect her breeding for the season to come.

She needs to grow and put on condition in order to slot into the rest of the flock so weaning early and giving her priority in terms of good grass now, should leave her in good condition come breeding time next October.

I separated the ewes and ram lambs post weaning, gave them a Cobalt Bolus and ran them through a sheep shower, which I found really effective, labour saving and stress free on both man, woman and sheep.

The ram lambs are now on after grass and they are currently being given ad lib access to meal. They won't need too much meal but ram lambs need feed to put that extra bit of finishing flesh on them.

Often I have seen ram lambs going to the factory with a live weight of 46 kilos but only killing out at 19 kilos or less.

This year I've noticed that my lambs are quite a uniform bunch in terms of weight which is good. This means that if I manage them correctly I could have the majority of them sold by the end of September.

This time of year maintaining grass quality is a challenge. I am not so much a fan of topping grass anymore.

In years gone by I have found with topping, while it looks good for about a week after you've done it, the grass seems to go stemmy again, especially in reseeded fields.

This year in fields that were getting ahead of me, 'I took them out' as you often hear a dairy farmer say, and made a second cut of silage and a few extra bales of haylage.

This means that I will have good quality after grass coming for lambs all over the farm and extra fodder for the coming winter.

Stemmy grass is no use to lambs and in fact it can actually hinder their progress slowing thrive and causing lameness.

The summer is moving along at a fast pace and before you know it the breeding season for lambing 2016 will be upon us.

I hauled in all my rams which are generally speaking in good nick but I always invest in a few new ones each year. Issues such as lameness and poor condition should be addressed now, not the day before you decide to let them out with the ewes next October.

As the ewes have dried off now I am going to go through them and cull out the problems from last year and foot bath and condition score the rest.

This is quite a straight forward task as any ewe that gave trouble during lambing has a little notch on her ear.

Also anything with mastitis is easily identifiable and better off on the trailer.

One thing that saved my bacon last spring when grass was tight was reseeded grass which responded well to fertiliser and whatever growth was available.

I intend to get a bit of reseeding done this year and I've also checked out the pH on a field that was not performing too well. So lime may be needed.

A soil test is money well spent as it tells you a lot about what your soil does or does not need.

Reseeding is a tricky business, if you skimp on inputs such as fertiliser and lime you won't get the field back into production quickly and you might just find yourself having to do the whole thing again.

In a reseed, I soil test, spray off the ground, lime, reseed and fertilise.

Leave out any of these and then you will run into bother. All I need now is the weather to get it done.

John Fagan is a sheep farmer from Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

jfagan@ independent.ie

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