Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Ewes impress Mayo group on Scottish trip

Irish hill sheep farmers visit top breeders and Lanark ram sale

Mayo hill farmers listen to Scottish farmer Tom Patterson explain how he built up his flock
Mayo hill farmers listen to Scottish farmer Tom Patterson explain how he built up his flock

John Noonan

A group of hill sheep farmers from the Mayo Mountain Blackface Group and the Mayo/ Connemara Ram Group recently travelled to Scotland to visit some top notch sheep breeders and also the premier Lanark ram sale.

The farmers came from Achill, Belmullet, Ballycroy, Newport, Louisburgh and Tourmaceady. The aims of the trip were to examine hill sheep efficiencies along with getting practical information on methods of improving and marketing of hill sheep.

Farm one

The group flew from Galway to Edinburgh and the first holding visited was Remony Farm in Perthshire. The primary business is hill farming but owner James Duncan Millar has diversified into tourism, forestry and sports (the farm hosts shooting parties for pheasant, deer and grouse), with electricity generation providing another income stream.

The farm runs 1,600 Lanark type ewes, along with 50 suckler cows (Shorthorn x Highlander x Salers bred to Charolais bull). The calves from the suckler herd are sold to a brother's farm at weaning.

The ewes are split into three flocks (hersils) with one flock in the Signet recording scheme, with recorded rams from it used on the other flocks. Yearling rams (tups) are mainly selected from the recorded flock also. James commented that recording is seen as an additional tool to help select the best rams and is improving the overall flock as a result.

Lambing starts April 10, ewes are scanned in January with doubles receiving 0.5kg concentrate for five weeks pre lambing. If snow is heavy all ewes are offered silage. The scan results were disappointing in last year and head shepherd David Nicol put it down to wet weather and unusually early snow. After lambing, singles go to the hill while doubles are kept on the lowland.

Lambs are slaughtered from January to March at 40kg liveweight after grazing a mixture of rape and kale and concentrates. The lambs generally made £80-85/hd or €91-97/hd.

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Asking David about current prices for sheep, he said old ewes were making £50-60 or €57-€68, hoggets (gimmers) were making £130-150 or €148-171. The group members were very impressed by the ewes. A common practice in Scotland is to send replacement ewe lambs to lowland farms from October to March to help them develop; this costs £16/ewe lamb (€18.20) which also covers dosing and general care.

Farm two

Our second visit was to the farm of Tom and Moire Patterson of Dunruchan Farm, Crieff, Pertshire. Tom is a well known sheep judge and has judged at Balmoral, and the Highland Show on several occasions.

The farm carries a flock of 1,800 Lanark ewes, along with 300 Perth type ewes. The suckler herd of around 30 cows are spring calving and are out-wintered as Tom could never see the cost of housing being justified in a hill drystock situation.

Handling facilities and fencing are the main costs, with virtually no housing on the farm. When Tom began farming the holding he purchased the best quality breeding stock at Lanark sales over a five-year period to establish a good quality flock. The two flocks are kept separate with the Lanark type stock being lower set and a tighter wool breed, while the Perth type are bigger with longer wool.

Tom finds the Perth sheep are easier to handle and can be brought to bigger weights at slaughter. Last winter was very harsh with big snowfalls. We were told a story about one group of ewes that were snow bound for two weeks and all survived and some lambed twins. They dug into the snow to eat the roots of heather and the wool of other sheep. It was testament to the resourcefulness of the blackface breed.

Lambs are finished from January to March with a mix of rape/kale and concentrates, with two crops taken in succession before reseeding the plot. We saw some top quality sheep on the farm, both ewes and rams.

Irish Independent

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