Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Fodder rape may suit the hard midlands frost

Competing at the 2015 Irish National Sheep Dog Trials at Tullyvolty , Johnstown, Co Kilkenny was Peter Morgan from Newry Co Down with his dog Dot
Competing at the 2015 Irish National Sheep Dog Trials at Tullyvolty , Johnstown, Co Kilkenny was Peter Morgan from Newry Co Down with his dog Dot
John Fagan

John Fagan

Not only is my mind focusing on the preparation for the upcoming breeding season for 2015 but I am also planning for the winter ahead. The biggest challenge to any farming system is getting through the winter as cheaply as possible.

Now that the winter barley is cut I have decided to sow 20ac of fodder rape. I haven't tried this before with sheep but I think that it will suit my farm the best.

I had toyed with the idea of fodder beet, but the hard frosts that we get here in the midlands might just not suit that type of a crop.

The aim is to get the rape sown straight after the harvest so as to give it plenty of time to get established. It costs roughly €150 per acre to grow with seed, fertiliser and machinery costs so it's not the most expensive crop to grow.

The benefit that I see from growing it will be that it will mean reduced labour during the winter as the sheep will be largely wintered outside. I would prefer not to have to house sheep until just at lambing, it triples the work load and it's expensive. Just how many sheep I will get to graze on it depends on how well the crop establishes.

I continue to draft the ram lambs which are on meal. The recent price rise is a welcome turnaround. I find with ram lambs they need to be between 48 and 50kg live if you want to achieve the maximum kill out of 21.5kg. The last load I sent off averaged 47kg liveweight and killed out on average 20.4kg.

This is one kilo less sheep meat that I am getting paid for, so getting the remaining lambs to at least 50kg is the aim from now on. Ram lambs can be misleading when you weigh them, they need a fleshy back, any sign of a spine underneath the flesh when you put a hand on them means they are best left off until the next draft.

The ewe lambs will be separated into two groups. The Texel and Suffolk cross ewe lambs all out of Mule ewes are retained for breeding.

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I've been selling them to a few loyal customers over the years and the fact that they keep coming back means I must be doing something right.

The Mule traits combined with the Suffolk and Texel conformation means that they make a great breeding ewe. Breeding your own replacements is the best way to ensure the health of your flock.

I try to foot bath the entire flock once a month. I find that if you miss a month scald and lameness can set in.

I foot bath with a batch foot bath. Its time efficient and effective at killing the scald bacteria but one thing that is essential is that you have enough zinc sulphate in the water.

I often hear farmers complain that they were foot bathing them and that it didn't work and often it's the case that there isn't enough zinc sulphate in the solution. The water needs to have a 5 to 10pc concentration otherwise it won't work.

The best way to check this is with a hydrometer calibrated for zinc sulphate. You can pick these up in any lab around the country. They'e not expensive they're not complicated and its the only way to be sure that you are foot bathing your flock correctly.

I intend to apply to the TAMS II grant scheme for some sheep handling equipment. This is a unique opportunity for sheep farmers to improve their handling facilities.

The Combi Clamp and Electrodip sheep shower system are two things that I have in mind. There are numerous pieces of equipment available and my attitude to handling sheep is that if it means you can get jobs done quicker and easier well it's worth it.

I have also invested in a Border Collie pup. Many people can't believe that I don't have a sheep dog, but I depended a lot on my quad and youthful energy working with sheep, but again I think its time that I got a dog.

I am looking forward to it, she's just a pup, so I am going to train her myself, it should be interesting and challenging. I find with dogs if you put the time bonding with them, they will reward you tenfold.

John Fagan is a sheep farmer from Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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