Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Farms need to keep up with rate of progress in UK


Tom Staunton

I farm in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, on the shores of Lough Mask, with my wife Maura, who runs a B&B and self-catering guesthouses. We have six children. Michael works in Zurich; Niamh teaches in Dublin; Thomas is in his third year studying animal science at UCD; Aine is just home from a year in Tanzania; Kevin has started training to be a woodwork teacher in Co Galway; and Maeve is in fourth class in primary school.

We farm 35ha along with another 20ha of rented ground. The farm is fragmented, which means a lot of time is spent on travel and costs are increased. We farm 250 Scotch ewes, 60 Mules, 20 pedigree Bluefaced Leicester ewes and about 40 replacement ewe lambs. I am chairman of the Mayo Mule and Greyface Group and I am also involved in the South Mayo Quality Lamb Producer Group and Mayo Blackface Group.

Two years ago, seven farmers and I set up a company called Lamb Direct to market our own lamb directly to the consumer. We provide boxed lamb that is fully traceable to its origin and is delivered nationwide by a chilled courier service. We have had a great response to our product and we plan to build on this. You can visit our website at

We also have a small suckler herd of 12 cows that start calving in March and continue until the end of April. We ran a pedigree Charolais bull -- a son of CF52 -- with them this year.

A stockbull suits me since it reduces labour on heat detection during the spring and early summer when the sheep require a lot of attention. A few years ago we sold all our cattle but this had a negative effect on the grass management on the farm. More topping and control of swards was required so we bought cows again and have concluded that the mixed grazing system suits us best.

Most of the Scotch ewes are bred with a Bluefaced Leicester ram to produce Mule ewe lambs, which I have been selling for the past 25 years. The remainder of the Scotch ewe flock are bred with a Lanark ram to produce replacements.

This year, we have used multiple ovulation embryo transfer (MOET) and AI on our pedigree Bluefaced Leicester ewes.

This is our first time using embryo transfer and AI on the flock. It allows us to use the best rams from Scotland and England without purchasing a ram. It also allows us to get more lambs from our best ewes. Previously, we'd be doing well to get three lambs from our best ewe, but with embryo transfer we can get maybe 10 or more lambs from that ewe. We used some of our best and proven Mule ewes as recipients for the embryos. So now we're looking forward to the arrival of these lambs to see how successful the process is.

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For the past number of years we have bred our Scotch ewe lambs. The ewe lambs are shorn in September and let out with a Bluefaced Leicester ram in November. Only lambs that are above 45kg are let to the ram.

We started doing this to increase the productivity of the flock. We saw that we had ewe lambs running dry over the winter with the capability of producing 0.9-1.2 lambs per ewe. This reduces the cost of wintering the ewe lambs, and if the ewe lambs are managed carefully they can be successful mothers.

I believe I should be improving my farm each year with better stock or facilities. This year, I have joined the Sheep Ireland programme because I saw that the programme and recording could help improve not just my flock, but flocks all over the country.

The sheep industry has fallen behind our British and EU counterparts in terms of development over the years. The Bluefaced Leicester breeders in the UK, for example, record and produce economic breeding indexes for 1,500 lambs every year. Contrast that with Ireland where there is currently no recording for this breed.

Overall, the sheep industry has had a successful year and I'm hopeful that prices will remain steady.

Tom Staunton is a beef and sheep farmer at Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

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