Monday 26 September 2016

Ready, set, lamb

Darragh McCullough gets lambing tips from the wners of one of the country's top performing flocks

Published 17/02/2016 | 02:30

Ken Matthews shows the simple cut-offs from plastic spray cans that make perfect holders for the essentials that people working around the lambs need close to hand during the season.
Ken Matthews shows the simple cut-offs from plastic spray cans that make perfect holders for the essentials that people working around the lambs need close to hand during the season.

On the way into the small village of Killeigh just outside Tullamore lies the mixed farm of Ken and Richard Mathews.

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However, the father and son partnership specialise in one enterprise, sheep, and now have one of the top performing flocks in the country.

Last year, they achieved an impressive gross margin of €850/ha, driven largely by the 1.93 lambs reared per ewe.

This latter figure includes stock reared by ewes lambs that make up a seventh of the flock.

Drilling into that massive productivity, it is clear that the prolificacy of the Belcare crossbreds is key, but so too is the attention to detail to ensure that mortality levels are kept to just 10pc - even with half of the 279 crossbreds, and 15pc of the 78 Suffolks producing more than two lambs.

"It's those first few days after the lamb is born that is key to keeping mortality down, and they say that every dead lamb is a loss of about €70 to the farmer," says Ken.

"Like last year we had six ewes scanned with triplets lambing one after the other. Except four of them had quads. It's at times like that you need extra pairs of hands and good systems. One of the things that we rely a lot on here is a whiteboard to communicate with the next person taking over.

"We lamb about 90pc of the flock in three weeks, so there's several shifts here between myself, Richard, ag and vet students, and some other family members that help out. Sometimes we clock off before the next person starts, so that whiteboard in the storeroom is vital to make sure that the next person knows what to prioritise."

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