Monday 26 September 2016

Mayo and Maam Cross mules the breeding base

Published 06/04/2016 | 02:30

John Fagan uses a Mayo or Maam Cross mule as the base for his flock.

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"I find them to be easy lambing with plenty of milk. I go down to the sales in Ballinrobe and Maam Cross for a few days every year and buy 50-100 to top up the nucleus flock. I call it retail therapy for farmers!" he laughs.

"The breeders down there do a great job, and I always think that the stock is well presented, with good frames, size and heads.

"By crossing them with the Texel or Suffolk, I get a good lamb to finish, and it seems to be the right cross to suppress the number of triplets that I have to deal with, while still giving me a good twinning rate. Up to now, I've been averaging about 1.6 lambs per ewe, when all empties and ewe lambs are included," said Fagan.

"I keep the best of the ewe lambs from this first cross, and that forms the majority of the flock.

"But I probably don't cull hard enough every year. Even this spring, I've had a few of the older ewes letting me down. They might be five or six years old, and not be great on their feet or have a bit of mastitis.

"It's this kind of stuff that has me thinking about making the switch to electronic tagging. Just to be more accurate in record keeping and identifying problem ewes, and even for choosing which ones are the best to keep for breeding. It's possible that by eliminating my worst performing 5pc, I could increase my profitability by 15pc."

John's Teagasc advisor, David Webster agrees. "Long term, it's the way to go, from both a national and an individual sheep flock point of view," he said.

"It's going to be difficult to make progress on genomics in sheep without any milkiness, ease of lambing, or lamb weight data being collected, and there's also the problem of just how reliable the traceability is in the sheep sector without it.

"It would be a far superior system, because even with the best will in the world, nobody knows which ewe is which after they've been shorn.

"The problem is the costs involved, which are still quite prohibitive for the typical sheep farmer with 50 ewes. The reader alone is €1,000, and farmers can't see enough benefit in it for them to invest. It was grant-aided under STAP but that's all over now."

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