Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 March 2018

Creep feeding rejection sparks row

John Shirley

THE normally sedate Irish Grassland Association was treated to unusually robust exchanges at last week's conference. These exchanges started when Dr Tim Keady concluded that creep feeding of lambs at grass was economically questionable.

He also outlined a 2009 lamb-fattening trial, which showed that the catch crops typhon and chicory were certainly no better, and probably inferior, to well-managed grass.

A farmer in the audience accused Dr Keady of rushing out the results on catch crops after just one year's result. Kilkenny farmer William Hutchinson said that over a 15-year period, farmers in his group found that typhon had the power to get lambs to higher weights with better kill-outs than could ever be achieved on grass during a dry July and August.

Former IFA deputy president Derek Deane was not impressed with Dr Keady's conclusions on creep feeding either. He argued that creep feeding lambs at grass got the lambs away at higher prices and eliminated the tailenders.

However, Dr Keady, who has never been regarded as the shrinking violet of the agri-scene, defended his conclusions on both issues and argued that his research was backed up by measured on-farm results.


The issue of castrating ram lambs also raised heated debate. Dr Seamus Hanrahan was adamant that widespread taste panel research showed no adverse consumer reaction to ram lambs slaughtered up to the end of the grazing season. He argued that castration did away with significant growth advantages.

Members of the audience responded that leaving rams entire was a sure way to put consumers off sheep meat for life. Bord Bia's Margaret McCarthy was called on for an opinion. She stressed that supermarket specifications ruled out entire rams. The guideline remains; any male lamb slaughtered from August on should be a castrate. Indeed, when one looks closer at a table in the Dr Hanrahan presentation his comparison was with lambs slaughtered in early August.

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Dr Hanrahan, who retires later this year as head of Teagasc sheep research, raised farmers' bristles by saying that electronic tagging should have been embraced by the sheep industry so that it could deliver the same data base and breeding information that is now available in cattle breeding.

While welcoming the exciting proposals for sheep breeding eurostar indexes from ICBF and Sheep Ireland, Dr Hanrahan warned that more widespread recording will be needed to identify the genetically superior animals. His recording over the years showed little difference between pedigree rams of high and low LMI index.

The retiring head of sheep research signed off on an optimistic note saying that full adoption of Teagasc grassland and breeding technology can return a farm gross margin of about €1,200/ha.

Irish Independent