The sheep of Athenry
Some 10,000 farmers are expected to travel west next Saturday for the Teagasc Sheep 2015 event
How do sheep farmers maximise their output per acre? This is the nub of the question that Teagasc researcher Philip Creighton has been investigating for the last three years at the demonstration farm in Athenry.
His results are quite startling. They show that higher prolificacy sheep are key to getting more profit from your farming system. Even though the carcase weights tend to be lighter, Dr Creighton's research shows that the extra numbers more than compensate for any drop in carcase weight.
"Because higher prolificacy sheep tend to have lighter mature weights, they have a lower demand per head. Effectively, there is a greater proportion of the grass going into lambs than the ewe in the high prolificacy system," he said.
The farm at Athenry has been divided into six separate 'farmlets'. Despite the fact that no farmlet is more than 6ha, each is managed separately, and costs apportioned to generate profit monitors for all six.
The idea is to compare three different stocking rates - 10, 12 and 14 ewes per hectare - across two types of ewe prolificacy - 1.5 lambs per ewe and 1.8 lambs per ewe.
The high stocking rate/high prolificacy group produced the most lamb carcase weight per hectare, with 24 lambs, or 468kg, sold per hectare. This was over 150kg or eight lambs per hectare more than the low prolificacy group at lowest stocking rate.
But the group with the biggest gross margin was the high prolificacy group operating at the medium level stocking rate of 12 ewes per hectare.
The reason for this was simple - at the more extreme levels of output, the system became more reliant on bought in meal to supplement inadequate levels of grass. This, in turn, ate into the profitability of the system.