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Close out jobs while it's calm

As the first month of the year draws to a close, what New Year resolutions could be implemented to make this one a better year?

Before the days start getting longer and the workload increases, with lambing etc coming closer, now is a good time to reflect on a few jobs that could be done to make life a bit easier.

  • Profit monitor: Have you completed the figures for last year yet? If you don't know where the weaknesses of the farm business lie, it will be very difficult to make the appropriate changes. This is not pie in the sky. Do you know the exact cost of producing a lamb last year? How much do you spend on veterinary, feed and fertiliser costs on a per-ewe or per-lamb basis? These are questions every sheep farmer should know the answer to. If you have not completed this task, then now is the time to do it.

  • Health: Maintaining your own health and safety in addition to that of others on your farm should be of paramount importance. Have you got a health and safety statement/ assessment done on your farm? This, again, is not a big job. It merely takes a bit of time and thought put into it. Any hazards/risks that are identified should be dealt with to minimise injury. What about lights and power supplies around the yard? Once lambing starts there will be little time to do any maintenance work. Keep the yard area tidy -- maybe a spring clean is required. For those in REPS, this is also a requirement of the scheme.

  • Supplies: Have you got fertiliser in the yard? Every spring when conditions become right for spreading fertiliser there is a mad rush at co-ops and agri-merchants to get deliveries to farms. Often, at this time of year, we get a very short window of opportunity to spread fertiliser, so have it in the yard to get out when the opportunity arises. However, before you order your fertiliser, make sure you check what you can spread. Under REPS and the Nitrates Directive you are limited to the type of fertiliser and how much of it you can spread. There is no point in checking if you exceeded the limits at the end of the year when the fertiliser has been applied. Phosphorus in particular, is creating difficulties, especially where a lot of concentrates are being fed. If in doubt contact your adviser.

  • Paperwork: Last month, all flock owners will have received last year's sheep census form from the Department of Agriculture. This form needs to be completed and sent back by this Friday. This is a legal obligation -- failure to return the form can have consequences for your direct payments. In addition, your herd/flock number could be made dormant. The form this year has an additional box into which you must fill the number of breeding ewes (over 12 months of age) that are in the flock. This will enable the Department to get a handle on the exact size of last year's ewe flock. If you have any queries or need assistance in completing the form there is a special helpline: 1890 252 713

  • Draft lambs regularly: The current high lamb price is a major boost to sheep farmers. Still, be careful not to miss the boat. Prices can slip quickly if there is a flush of lambs, and signs are that factories are trying hard to pull back prices.

Again, check with your agent which weights are being paid for and if any draft lambs are over the weighing scales. Don't give the factories free meat by sending in big, heavy lambs that are over the cut- off weight. This free meat will cost you in terms of feed and effort.

In general, meal-fed lambs will kill out around 43pc. Therefore, if you are being paid to 23kg carcass, you should be selecting lambs up to around 53kg in weight.

Irish Independent