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Sunday 11 December 2016

Playing catch-up in the fields and yard after a harsh spring

John Fagan

Published 27/05/2015 | 02:30

The Combi Clamp sheep handling unit is produced by Gibney Steel in Oldcastle, Co Meath
The Combi Clamp sheep handling unit is produced by Gibney Steel in Oldcastle, Co Meath

At last the weather seems to have normalised and that cold harsh blast has finally moved on. At my recent STAP meeting we could separate the farmers who had grass problems into two groups, those that had not reseeded in recent years and those that had.

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In a year like this, reseeded grass pays dividends. It has a faster response to fertiliser and pushes on with growth, albeit it might be slower than normal but it is still better than older pasture. Those that had reseeded in my STAP group were therefore performing better on the grass front than those that had not.

With this in mind, provided that I get the weather for it, I am going to reseed some of my older swards this summer.

The ewes and lambs are doing well, I regularly keep them moving about the farm in order to keep them grazing the top of the grass. I hope to be drafting the first of my lambs in late June - but time will tell. The pet lambs are now on ad-lib meal inside and are thriving better than my lambs outside. I expect to have most of them drafted by the end of June.

While everyone is looking out for grass tetany at this time of year, my biggest problem has been ewes getting stuck on their backs as well as mastitis. A ewe getting stuck on her back is down to them being in good condition, as well as having a heavy fleece of wool.

It is the most frustrating way to lose a sheep so I have to check them twice a day in order to avoid any more losses. I have plently of scratching posts about the farm but nevertheless they still manage to get into difficulty.

The mastitis, going by what other farmers have also experienced, is probably a side affect of the harsh weather. I'm not sure how this is the case but I can see no other explanation for it. You just have to keep an eye out for ewes not looking the best or lagging back from the rest of the flock and treat them with a long-acting antibiotic.

Generally May is the month to get things tidied up around the farm after lambing. May is also the month for weed control and I'll get out with the sprayer to nail some docks that have been raising their ugly heads around the place.

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I find that if I don't get on top of cleaning out lambing sheds and tidying up the yard in May you can spend the rest of the summer playing catch up as shearing, silage, hay making, good weather and maybe even a holiday get precedent over such tasks.

I took a trip up to the Balmoral Show to see what all the fuss was about and it was very impressive.

The location at the old Maze prison grounds is a perfect place to get to.

Dagging

I got the chance to meet Bob Richie and Oliver Gibney who were show-casing the Combi Clamp handling unit at the Gibney Steel Products stand. It looks to be a serious piece of kit.

Last April when I was in the midst of dagging 1,000 ewes I came to the conclusion that there must be an easier way to do this. Often farmers can be of the mindset that if a job is hard we must be doing it right; well that mindset has changed for me.

The Combi Clamp can take all the back ache out of handling sheep and provided I can get the grant aid under TAMS II I think I'm going to invest. Even without the grant it's tempting. Since lambing I've spent over €200 on physio therapy on my back, and it was the same last year and the year before. At this rate I'll have to give up sheep farming eventually due to back problems. There's probably an argument that stock handling equipment should be grant aided under the new health and safety grant scheme.

I also believe that you don't have to be the biggest sheep farmer to justify buying good handling equipment whether it is the 'combi clamp' or other pieces of kit.

Making the job easier for yourself is nothing to feel guilty about. The new TAMS II grant scheme is an ideal opportunity for sheep farmers to invest in their business as well their health.

John Fagan is a sheep farmer from Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath.

jfagan@ independent.ie

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