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Focus is on treating stock for pink eye and dosing for fluke

Last Thursday was the deadline for having all our ewe lambs tagged with a set of EID tags and our census form returned for the past year. We aimed for a high standard of hygiene when tagging to avoid infection in the ears of the sheep by punching a hole in the ears of the sheep one month before tagging. This hole is completely healed at the time of tagging and eliminates the threat of infection in the ear.

None of us can afford to be administering antibiotics for sore ears in sheep after tagging, and we certainly don't want to be shelling out for new tags to replace ones that have to be removed to help ears to heal.

Pink eye, or what is commonly know in our part of the world as 'dallamullóg', is another problem that we've experienced during the past month. The infection is highly contagious and can spread through a flock very fast and, if left untreated, can result in the sheep going blind. I think a lot of it is carried by sheep that are bought in.

The first signs were redness in the eyes of some ewes with a discharge of water. We ended up treating them with a 5cc injection of oxytetracycline and taking the infected ewes away from the main flock to a field with no drain to prevent the problem spreading. We're 3-4 weeks down the road now and, fingers crossed, the infection looks like it's subsiding.

Fluke treatment has been high on our agenda this year. After a very wet year, it is widely predicted that fluke levels across the country will be high.

I'm giving three fluke treatments instead of the usual two. One dose in September, one in December and again in February. We're using Flukiver along with Zanil for the rumen fluke.

The mating season is over for us now and it's time to take care of the rams. Rams can be neglected at this time of year but I aim to ensure that they don't lose more than two body condition scores during the mating season. This target is on the basis that our rams started with a good body condition of four.

My plan is to take up the rams in mid-December, treat them for fluke and worms and then run them through the footbath. The rams are then fed 0.5kg/day of meal and hay or silage ad-lib over the winter.

This year's lift in prices was long overdue but at least it has created a fresh interest in sheep.

The rise was driven by a strong beef trade, which resulted in a very strong store lamb trade early in the year. These store lambs were brought in to eat grass rather than buying cattle. Factory agents had a tougher job than usual to compete in the marts and this helped stabilise prices throughout the year.

Breeding sheep got the biggest lift, with prices here up by €20/hd on average. An influx of new entrants and increases in flock size saw lambs hitting €200 and hoggets making €220 a head. But a word of caution: while this lift is long overdue and very welcome, farmers must not lose sight of the fact that costs are still on the rise.

Next year is going to be another challenging one for sheep farmers, with the recent increase in VAT and the cutbacks to the farming schemes that were announced in the recent Budget. But sheep farmers are a resilient bunch and will always be hopeful for the coming year.

Tom Staunton is a sheep farmer based in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

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