Saturday 20 December 2014

Harvest 2020 target may be worth less than cost

John Large

Published 04/12/2013 | 02:30

What a difference from last year, with more than 75pc of lambs sold and without a big bill for meal to pay. This time last year we had less than 50pc of lambs sold after feeding expensive meal to most of them before slaughter.

The price per kilo this year was more or less the same as last year but the kill weight has been very slow to get up over 21.5kg.

When you are selling lambs after September it can be hard to have enough of a fat cover at a carcass weight of less than 21.5kg, especially with Belclare-cross lambs. The good news is we are getting paid to 22.5kg this week.

There is a good chance we will get near the €100 mark. The remainder of the lambs are on fodder rape which has grown on well since sowing after spring barley.

I am glad I sprayed off the barley that came up in the crop because I have seen some fields that were not sprayed and there is more barley than fodder rape there now.

I will feed some meal to these lambs and sell them as they become fit. If there is any fodder rape left we will graze it with ewe lambs which we hope to keep out on some saved grass with round bales of silage and some concentrates to the smaller ones.

OUTSIDE

This year our ewes are all still out on grass and fodder beet tops. The ewes on grass are nearly finished, they will be moved onto tops next week and should have enough to keep them all outside until before Christmas. Last year with poor ground conditions there was very little value in these fodder beet tops.

The other big plus this year is that not only have we enough hay and silage but it is of much better quality than last year, so less meal will be fed to ewes before lambing.

All these things are a huge help to keep down costs. They are all governed by weather and our ability as farmers to make use of what we can grow.

On the breeding front, the rams will be removed the first week of December so no lambs will be born in May.

Last year I asked whether we could meet the 10pc growth target set in Food Harvest 2020. Going by this year's poor breeding sales for ewes, and the subsequent ram sales not being much better, the answer is definitely no. But with fewer ewes to lamb earlier and more lambs sold, next spring could provide a good return for those people who bought stores.

These store finishers are very important to the trade in the autumn, especially as more ewes move back to lambing from mid-March onwards. The target set out by Teagasc of 468kg of carcass weight sold per hectare is very ambitious. By my rough calculations at a stocking rate of 10 ewes per hectare selling 1.6 lambs per ewe we can sell somewhere around 320kg per hectare.

Have we the ability to achieve 33pc more?

Most importantly, will we be much better off after the extra cost and work involved?

John Large, sheep farmer from Co Tipperary. Email: johnslarge@live.com

Irish Independent

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