The lambing season approaches, but where are all the hungry customers?
I don't think there are too many farmers that aren't licking their wounds after the tough year that was 2012, but preparations for lambing 2013 are already in full swing.
Before Christmas, I scanned the first batch of ewes due to lamb on my farm. These are due to lamb down from February 25 and they scanned very well at over two lambs per ewe. I put the good scanning rate down to a number of factors.
Condition scoring is probably the biggest factor that affects scanning rate and I am glad that I gave the ewes more time prior to letting the ram out with them last September.
Breed is another factor in the good scanning rate.
Mule ewes are, by nature, a prolific breed and the Texel- and Suffolk-cross ewe lambs I have retained in the breeding flock over the past few years are also carrying this trait.
The next big challenge is getting these ewes through the spring. I have already started feeding them a high-protein ration. I also got my silage tested and it has, as expected, a low DMD (dry matter digestibility) of 62, with protein at 9pc, so the early introduction of feed to these ewes is vital in order to maintain condition.
I do not want problem ewes at lambing and acting sooner rather than later is the best way to avoid weak lambs, deaths and other problems that can arise.
I have been feeding 250g of ration per head and I can already see the benefits in ewe condition.
I aim to increase this gradually each week as the lambing date approaches.
I have to scan two batches of sheep, which are due to lamb on March 17 - April 1. I am glad that I bred them in batches because the logistics of lambing them all at the same time would make my life very tough.
Finishing the lambs left over from last year is, at this stage, a salvage job.
Normally these lambs would have been sold before Christmas, but the legacy of 2012 is being carried forward into 2013. I am really hoping to finish them all before lambing starts in February. I have been routinely dosing for fluke, keeping a close eye on the retention dates for the dose. Luckily they seem to be thriving well and the aim is to keep them moving all the time.
The plan over the coming weeks is to start getting sheds ready for lambing.
Leaving it all to the last minute brings with it its own problems and the last thing I need is to be exhausted before the fun begins in spring.
Cleanliness around the farmyard is important to prevent a build-up of disease risks, so I will wash down the whole yard and disinfect everything, to kill any potential problems that might linger around the farmyard.
I have separated out the ewes carrying triplets and singles, with the intention of giving extra feed to the ewes scanned with triplets and not as much to the single ladies.
I never let a ewe rear triplets because it usually ends in tears. Having identified the triplets, I will try to adopt as many lambs on to the singles as possible.
I am going to invest in an automatic feeder for the pet lambs this year. I find that a lot of time is wasted each year rearing pets and, given that the new automatic feeder can rear up to 120 lambs, I feel it is a justifiable investment.
Over the past year, I have found that my grassland is just not performing as well as I would like. A lot of the farm has been reseeded in the past few years, but some fields are still not performing, so I need to soil test again to find out what exactly is wrong.
It is also very important to soil test before I put out any slurry because this would give a false result and would be of no benefit to my grassland management.
When we look back over the past couple of years in the sheep industry, it is clear that the price of lamb is driven every year by supply and demand. In 2011, supply dropped and lamb price went up, while in 2012 the supply recovered and lamb price began to fall back.
This is not a healthy attribute for the industry and I don't think enough is being done to increase the demand for lamb. We need new consumers.
Bord Bia has a responsibility to increase the demand for lamb, but clearly this isn't happening.
Each time I kill lambs, I pay a levy to Bord Bia and, in fairness, I get a premium price because I meet the criteria for Bord Bia quality-assured lamb.
However, I think that we need to market lamb more aggressively. Bord Bia is my marketing manager and it needs to take it up a level.
There is an advertisement on TV at the moment that says that those who increase their spending on marketing during a recession actually increase their sales by 256pc.
Why shouldn't this apply to advertising Irish lamb? Is more funding needed?
Perhaps we should see results from Bord Bia first, then more funding from farmers will follow.
Finally, I wish everyone a happy, safe and prosperous farming year in 2013.
John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Crookedwood, Co Westmeath. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org