Farm Ireland

Friday 24 November 2017

I won't house flock until I need to after hard lessons from last year

PROTECTION: Leylandii hedgerows, like this 20ft one seen on a New Zealand farm, could offer great shelter to lambing ewes during the winter
PROTECTION: Leylandii hedgerows, like this 20ft one seen on a New Zealand farm, could offer great shelter to lambing ewes during the winter
John Fagan

John Fagan

What a difference a year makes. This time last year my cattle had already been in the sheds for two months and as soon as I separated the ewes and rams, the flock was housed. It was a disaster when I look back at it, but at least it's behind me and the hard lessons have been learned. This year, there will be no rush to house the ewes; in fact it is quite likely that I won't have to house my sheep until just before lambing. This is the way things should be.

Housing sheep for too long is expensive and involves too much extra labour, which makes it a difficult task when you are managing on your own with the odd bit of casual help.

Lambs are continuing to come fit in greater numbers and I have more than 80pc of my lambs drafted. In fact the big problem now is they are over-fat and, in a group scenario, I am being penalised heavily.

More than a quarter of my last batch of lambs that went to the factory were overweight. I had tried to get them killed the week before but, being the accommodating farmer I am, I kindly held my lambs for a week longer, only to be heavily cut on over-fat lambs.

I should have sold these lambs at a flat price, so I'll know better next time. The path to hell is paved with good intentions.

I decided to keep about 50 ewe lambs for breeding. These were lambs that had done extremely well off grass and weighed in at over 50kg. I decided that, rather than give them away to the factory, I would take a chance on them. It wasn't in my plan for the year, but the unprecedented good weather and grass growth softened my stance.

I have some fencing to do under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS). I always try to keep it up to date on the farm and I find that by doing a little bit each year you can keep on top of it.


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I am hoping to create some shelterbelts by double fencing and planting a thick hedgerow. As the farm was previously in tillage, some of the fields are quite exposed. This was very apparent last spring when lambs had no shelter from the unrelenting east wind.

A few years ago I visited a sheep farm in New Zealand. One of the things that intrigued me was how the farmer had planted leylandii hedgerows between his paddocks. He had them perfectly trimmed to a height of about 20ft and, in the absence of any housing, they served as an excellent shelter against the elements.

I plan to take the rams away from the ewes this weekend. They will have been running together for six weeks. I'll leave the rams with the ewe lambs until November 25.

The ewes are in super condition. There has not been any fluke warning yet, but it is something that I'm keeping an eye on.

The land drainage I carried out last May has worked a treat. It's a no-brainer to carry out drainage on land. Normally I would have to close off this part of the farm in November but, thanks to the drainage, I will get more efficient use of this land throughout the entire year.

I will begin to gradually close off all fields that I intend to use at lambing time. They say you should rest land for 120 days, or one quarter of your grassland, to have plenty of grass in the spring. Everything falls into place if you have plenty of grass at lambing time.

I am due to get my Bord Bia inspection. I have heard that they are being quite rigid and some people are actually being failed. Things like filling in the correct withdrawal dates in your animal remedies book are being severely scrutinised.

Make sure to write down the actual date the animals will come off retention. Having a first aid kit and farm safety statement available are also important. Of course, a rat bait plan is important and, generally, having a clean yard is a help.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Crookedwood, Co Westmeath Email:

Irish Independent