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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Sheep: GLAS payments must increase if the scheme is to fulfil its potential

John Fagan

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

Trudy McLaughlin trimming a heifer at the Raphoe Livestock Mart Fat Stock Show and Sale. Photo Clive Wasson
Trudy McLaughlin trimming a heifer at the Raphoe Livestock Mart Fat Stock Show and Sale. Photo Clive Wasson

Generally I like to get the sheep housed by December 15 at the very latest.

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This year, unlike other years, I have a field of fodder rape for my ewe lambs. The crop hasn't performed as well as I would have liked. Lime deficiency, soil compaction and a late sowing date left it struggling. While it's not perfect however I will get to winter my ewe lambs on it and it's a valuable lesson learned.

Getting more familiar with the management of winter fodder crops is something I need to do as it is a cheaper way to winter large amounts of stock.

While the fodder rape is nothing to be proud of, I got my test results back from my first and second cut silage. The first cut came in at 76.6 DMD, 0.87 UFL and 13.1pc protein. Nothing to be ashamed of there. The second cut wasn't too far off it either with 69.4 DMD, UFL 0.78 and 12.1pc protein. One kilo of my silage is nearly as good as feeding one kilo of barley to my stock.

With silage like that there a good chance that I will have to feed very little meal to my ewes in the run up to lambing.

I've been working at improving my silage quality over the last number of years. Dr Tim Keady, from Teagasc Athenry, has been emphasising the importance of silage cutting date, wilting and grassland management at every opportunity.

He's right. The importance of quality silage making cannot be understated and a little bit of attention to detail at the time of harvesting can reap huge benefits for the farm. I just hope that next year I can be as consistent.

As soon as the ewes are housed I will hold off fluke dosing them for roughly two weeks. This allows for the dose to work on any young and immature fluke and ultimately saves me having to do them twice. I might just wait until scanning is over and cull the empty ewes before dosing. The withdrawal dates on fluke dose is very long.

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The whole flock is foot bathed in the zinc sulphate batch bath and anything that is too lame is left outside. The straw bedding will only aggravate a sore foot. I find zinc sulphate the most effective in treating lameness, but it needs to be a strong solution of at least 5pc.

The rams were taken away and housed on November 26 and already they are looking better. They lose a lot of condition this time of year. You need to look after them. A few of them have persistent soreness with their brisket/chest and lameness. If they don't improve by the end of January I am going to cull them.

The last of the lambs are gradually finishing off. These are the lambs from my home bred ewe lambs that were born last April. They have done well and a number of them graded 'E' on the last trip to the factory.

They were coming off a reseeded field that had fodder rape sown in it and obviously thrived. I should have the last of them sold before Christmas which is a first.

I decided to get the farm mapped by 'Grasstec'. Accurately knowing what is in each field and having the option to paddock-graze fields is the only way I'm going to properly manage grass on the farm.

I suppose I'm taking a leaf out of the dairy man's book but managing dairy heifers as a contract rearer has opened my eyes to the importance of having an accurate plan for the farm and regularly weighing stock. Having a well laid out map of your farm is the first step towards increasing productivity.

I have entered the GLAS scheme. It's alright. While its great to get the payment, it is small money for what we have to do, especially in the context of the recent conference on climate change in Paris where carbon emissions and controlling them are the big challenge facing every nation on earth.

There's a lot of things missing in GLAS II. The hedge planting and coppicing is restrictive, allowing you to only do 20pc in one year, which makes no sense. There is no individual tree planting.

For GLAS to be appealing the payment needs to be better than €5,000 per year REPS 4 was closer to €10,000, I think its time to be pushing for an upgrade.

As this is my last article for the year, I have been looking back at 2015 and it has to be regarded as one of the better years for the sheep sector. Lambing went well although I had a small problem with toxo abortion at the beginning.

Lamb prices stayed steady although I think every sheep farmer in Ireland got a fright when they were pulled a week earlier than usual in June. Grass growth was steady throughout the year and there were no weather extremes to upset things. I am glad to have moved away from beef production and to have gotten into contract rearing.

It works well with sheep and I just need to keep hitting the weight targets with the heifers, which I am doing easily.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and safe and prosperous farming year for 2016.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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