Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Last lamb crop of year slaughtered


Dr Tommy Boland

The last of the 2013 lamb crop were slaughtered yesterday. These lambs have grazed forage rape for the last five to six weeks. While I don't have the kill out performance of this group, the previous 39 lambs slaughtered from the forage rape killed out at 48pc, returning €101/hd.

The lamb sales pattern this year has fallen behind target as a result of the dry weather we encountered in July when our lambs were grazing the hill in Lyons.

Rams have been removed from the ewes and ewe lambs and we will scan the ewes on December 30.

There is a history of dog attacks at Lyons over the Christmas period in the past so we will house the ewes to minimise this risk.

When the ewes are turned back out they will graze a north-facing area of the hill. This has been conserved for this particular job.

With all lambs sold and the ewes more or less minding themselves at the moment, it gives us an opportunity to look at the performance of the flock. When discussing performance we need to consider both the physical and the financial performance of the flock. Physical performance indicators include litter size and conception rate, while on the financial side you can look at family farm income and grass margin per hectare.

However, the most important question is does your sheep enterprise put money in your pocket at the end of the year? The initial figures from the Teagasc National Farm Survey 2012 are available. It makes for stark reading.

In 2012, family farm income was back by 11pc in the sheep sector, and recent Teagasc data indicate a further fall in income for 2013. Even more concerning is the fact that 118pc of income in 2012 came from the Single Farm Payment (SFP). This means the SFP is subsidising the farming enterprise, making sheep farming an expensive hobby for many.

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I accept I am being provocative and the situation is not as simple as I am presenting it here, but these figures do raise an important issue. How can we help to protect our incomes in sheep farming? We focus on lamb price, and maximising price is something which must continue, and the farmer representative bodies do great work in this regard. But to a large extent we are price takers.

As producers, we must focus on our production costs. Control items within the farm gate. I am often criticised for pushing for farmers to take more measurements on farm. I don't apologise for this. If you don't measure, you can't manage.

Measure growth rate, record litter size, identify your best performing ewes, use these to select replacements, analyse silage quality, scan your ewes. But most importantly, use this information.

Compare performance from one year to the next, benchmark your flock against the national average and national targets. Are you getting a return from what you are doing? Will feeding more meals pay off? Am I getting the most form my grass?

All these questions and more must be addressed. The STAP scheme has given new impetus to this type of approach and farmers should embrace this opportunity and new knowledge.

As the new year approaches, it gives an ideal opportunity to take on some of these initiatives or, for the many farmers who are already doing it, to develop it even further.

Hopefully it won't fall by the wayside come the end of January like many New Year resolutions.

Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production and ruminant nutrition at UCD's Lyons research farm at Newcastle, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent