Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Case study: 'I get €40 more per head of lamb as part of the mule group'

Sheep farmers David Prendergast and Tom Staunton, Tourmakeady, are also co-founder of an animal health company
Sheep farmers David Prendergast and Tom Staunton, Tourmakeady, are also co-founder of an animal health company

David Prendergast is making up to €40 more per head of lamb since joing a 'prolific' producer group in the West,

Speaking on his farm in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, surrounded by the wild, rugged scenery of the Partry Mountains and the shores of Lough Mask, the 31-year-old told the Farming Independent that it's the best business decision he's ever made.

"I joined the Mayo Mule and Greyface Group five years ago. I've been knocking around the scene for the last 20 years with my father and I took the opportunity with both hands and it has been very, very fruitful so far," he said.

The biggest benefit highlighted by David is premium money for his best lambs. The father of one carries a flock of 120 ewes across 18 hectares of low lying grassland and five hectares of striped hill land. He says members push each other to produce better quality and encourage new ideas.

"You'd be making €30-€40 more per head with lamb by going directly into the sales in Ballinrobe with the producer group. We are making far more than you would be going to our ordinary run-of-the-mill mart. I'd say we're 25-30pc higher than what you'd be getting in a normal mart becasue they are bred and looked after to the ninth degree," he said.

He says being in a producer group is the way forward, especially for young farmers. However, financial shortcomings means full-time farming is still off the cards for now.

David is also co-founder of an innovative new company, Iomlán Animal Science, which he runs with another local young farmer, Tom Staunton. The company was set up to reduce antibiotic use by promoting animal nutrition, health and farm service. The company currently provides an impressive testing service which can test everything from silage quality, water quality, parasites to mycotoxin levels.

Being part of a producer groups allows both David and Tom to focus on developing their company.

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"The convenience is a massive thing for lambs in the factory. There is a lorry that brings them for you and you don't have to spend your whole day. Its handy, you don't have to be around all the time," said Tom (25) from Tourmakeady, who is a recent graduate from animal science in UCD.

However, David says if he thought he could make a full time living out of farming, he would.

"There is so much love for sheep farming around here. It's in my family and I don't want old traits to die," he said.

"My goals every year is to breed mules and to keep on improving quality year after year," he said.

Although he hasn't implemented any cutting edge techniques on his farm, he is keeping his lambs on the move by "religiously" switching their fields every week.

"It seems to be working well they are going into fresh grass every week. They've only recently started to go on meal and I'm quite happy with the weights they're at," he said.

However, he says he is open to any new technologies that could improve the quality of his stock.

"I'm interested but all these things seem to come at such a high cost and with the low margins that are in farming it's very hard to get your hands on the right equipment to progress your farm, so we'll keep motoring along with what we have at the moment," he said.

Last year, David scanned 1.5 lambs per ewe and is aiming to sell about 1.45 lambs out of his mountainy flock.

"It's not bad but at the same time I would like to improve that to 1.6 or 1.7 in the near future.

He says the mule lamb is a very "prolific breed" and sought-after mother.

"They have strong Mayo mountain mother instincts and the mother instincts of the Bluefaced Leicester which leads to very good lambs. They're very milky, big boned and put their lambs into big weights in the factory, which is what farmers are looking for," he said.

Indo Farming