Passion drives John to be better
A sheep farming gem was uncovered by the Irish Grassland Association (IGA) for its summer conference and farmwalk.
Originally from Co Derry, John Kelly and his father Eamonn moved to a 400-plus acre farm near Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, in 1994 when John was at Junior Cert age. After a period working abroad, mostly with horses, John came home and has established a sheep enterprise on 115 acres of the home farm.
Passionate about sheep, and an excellent communicator, John told the large Grassland gathering of his experience to date in establishing his flock of 330 ewes and 100 ewe lambs and of his ambition to keep 500 ewes on the same acreage. Speaking with a typical no-nonsense Northern directness, he explained how he sought, and seeks, information on sheep at every turn. He is a member of the Teagasc Better Farm Sheep programme but claims that he is not yet ready for the term "Better Sheep Farmer".
However, given his progress to date you would have to back him to reach his targets. And given his disposition he will share his experiences on the way. Given his detailed measuring, his results will be credible. Yes, now that there is a new interest in the sheep, John Kelly is an asset to the business.
In 2010 an average of 1.46 lambs have been reared from the 334 Kelly ewes put to the ram. The target is to deliver over 1.6 lambs per ewe from a flock of 500 ewes, plus replacements kept on the same area. And this is to be done with little increase in time worked.
At each stage of the production cycle there are targets. All lambs get electronic tags and are weighed at birth as part of the Better Farm programme. His lamb weaning weight targets, off grass only, are 33kg for twins and 38kg for singles. In 2009 John averaged 32.2 and 37.4kg. Post weaning, he wants at least 0.2kg/lamb/day off grass.
Currently John reckons that the sheep take up about 0.5 of a labour unit, with the balance of his time spent working on his father's beef and tillage enterprise.