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Sunday 11 December 2016

Three-year plan that's aiming for a gross margin of €80/ewe

Clifford Richardson is a young farmer with ambitious plans for his home flocks

Tom Coll

Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30

Clifford Richardson plans to expand his operation through breeding replacements from within the existing flock.
Clifford Richardson plans to expand his operation through breeding replacements from within the existing flock.

With sheep prices holding strong over the past year, many young farmers -and some more established ones- will be looking to focus on or include sheep in their farming mix.

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The newest farmer to take part in SheepTech will be one to watch over the coming year for any sheep enterprise looking to increase ewe numbers, reduce labour costs, and improve margins,

It is just three years since Clifford Richardson (33) began farming on the family's farm near the town of Carrigallen on the Leitrim and Cavan border.

At the moment the farm is a hive of activitiy, as he has established a flock of 80 pedigree Lleyn ewes which began lambing in mid-February.

Many sheep farmers rate the Lleyn breed highly for their ease of care and prolificacy. This year the ewes scanned with a litter size of 1.97 with 94pc of the ewes in lamb.

Clifford, who is an active participant in a sheep discussion group, has also signed up to the Sheep Ireland flock performance recording system LambPlus.

All lambs are electronically tagged and weighed at birth and lambing data recorded. Lambs are then weighed at eight weeks of age and at weaning, which provides vital guidance on breeding for the following year. The top performing ram lambs are selected and sold for breeding.

Last year Clifford, who completed the Teagasc Certificate in farming in 2013, acquired 26ha extra land on a long term lease to add to the 14ha home farm and plans to increase ewe numbers over the next three years.

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A three year plan (see panel opposite) has been put in place with the aim to increase ewe numbers, reduce labour and to generate a gross margin of at least €80 per ewe.

The stocking rate will then ultimately determine the overall output and profitability per hectare.

To maintain the health status of the flock Clifford plans to expand by breeding replacements from within the existing flock. He currently has 80 ewes and 50 ewe lambs that were not presented to the ram for breeding.

After examining the flock, he plans to cull 10 of the existing ewes for age and udder problems.

He is also forming a commercial flock with 20 of the existing pedigree Lleyn ewes and 25 of the 50 replacements due to be crossed with an Aberdale or Aberfield ram to breed future replacements.

The pedigree flock will consist of 50 mature ewes and 25 hoggets, with 50 of the best performing ewe lambs

selected for breeding in 2016, 25 for the pedigree flock, and 25 for the commercial flock.

In total, 170 sheep will be put to the ram in 2016 including 120 ewes and 50 ewe lambs. The future plan is to establish a pedigree flock of 80 ewes with 20 ewe lambs and also a commercial flock of 100 ewes with 20 ewe lambs for breeding in 2017.

The decision on future expansion and increased stocking rates will be made in 2018 based on workload and overall farm profitability.

Clifford is farming part-time and has a full-time job in the local family business, Jetwash, in Carrigallen, which manufactures pig housing and provides powerwashers.

He is a member of the Sligo/Leitrim lamb producer group which supplies lambs to Irish Country Meats in Navan.

We will follow Clifford's progress on a bimonthly basis over the coming years as he puts the plan in place.

Tom Coll is a Teagasc drystock and business advisor based in Mohill, Co Leitrim

Clifford's three-year plan

Establish the current soil fertility status by soil sampling, correcting the soil pH and taking corrective action to bring soil P and K levels to index 3 or better. Nitrogen will then be applied at 8-10kg per ewe on the farm, which should be sufficient to provide adequate grass for grazing and winter feed.

2 To avail of the 60pc young farmers TAMS grant and build a slatted house with lambing facilities for 240 ewes.

3 To improve the existing sheep handling and foot bathing facility with the overall aim to reduce labour, especially on routine tasks such as dosing, weighing and foot-bathing.

4 Establishing at least six paddocks per grazing group, and a grassland management plan to maximise production.

5 Establish a flock health and biosecurity plan.

6 Target weaning rate of 1.8 lambs per mature ewe mated.

7 Target lamb carcase weight to match factory pay weight as the season progresses to maximise output per lamb sold.

8 Breed from ewe lambs.

9 Continue to monitor ewe, lamb and ram performance and improve flock genetics.

10 To increase ewe numbers to 240, with 200 ewes and 40 ewe lambs bred annually.

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