Since my last article, grass growth has doubled to 90kg of dry matter (DM) per hectare per day on the sheep grazing ground at Lyons.
This is supporting strong lamb growth rates, with an average live weight of 27.75kg for our twin lambs at 10 weeks of age. This equates to a growth rate from birth to 10 weeks of just under 310/g per day.
Growth has reduced in the past month as one would expect when lambs begin to transit from a predominantly milk diet onto a more grass-based diet.
The inclement weather has not helped and the high rainfall and reduced grass DM content has major impacts on grass DM intake.
Additionally, once lambs being to graze, intestinal parasites become more of an issue. Our lambs have received a Levamisole drench to control nematodirus. We are continuing to monitor parasite challenge closely with faecal egg counts being conducted every two weeks.
Lambs received an Animax cobalt bolus at 11 weeks of age and this will see the vast majority through to slaughter. If we did not supplement with cobalt here we would run into serious lamb growth problems after weaning.
Ewes and lambs continue to be foot-bathed fortnightly, using a formalin solution.
The Teagasc national farm survey results have just been released. In 2014 sheep farm incomes are reported to have increased by 24pc compared to 2013, with the average sheep farm returning an income of €14,551. This increase in income is driven by cost reduction rather than an increase in output value.
Comparing dairy and sheep farms is a case of apples and oranges, but it's worth considering the impact of direct subsidies on farming activities. Average gross margin per hectare was €568 whan the subsidies are included.
When direct payments were removed, average gross margin was €363/ha. Top farmers are achieving gross margins of €1,000 per ha.
To drive output per hectare we need to look at stocking rate, lambs weaned per ewe and maximise the value of lamb sales. All three of these aspects, plus many more will be covered in the upcoming Sheep2015 event, which represents a major technical and commercial event for the sheep industry in Teagasc Athenry on June 20.
This promises to be a very informative day, with something to interest the entire family. It is also a STAP qualifying event. I encourage as many people as possible to attend. In the research world, international meetings are an important part of the bread and butter of what we do. This year there will be a very strong Irish representation at the American Society of Animal Science meeting, which is one of the premier international meetings for animal production research.
Frank Campion will present three papers, Fiona McGovern has two papers accepted and Brian Garry, who is based in Moorepark, will also present on grass digestibility.
This highlights the volume of research work currently underway in sheep production.
Along with Michael Gottstein and Joe Healy of this parish, I was recently involved in the Zurich Farming Independent Sheep Farmer of the year judging.
We visited farms in Galway, Monaghan and Kilkenny. It was clear to see why each farm was shortlisted for the final three and indeed the final decision merited much discussion.
I would like to congratulate Chris, Sarah and Deirdre Bourns on winning the prestigious title and also acknowledge Brian Nicholson and James and Allison Greer for the outstanding quality of their farming systems.
Dr Tommy Lyons lectures in sheep production at Lyons Farm, UCD