Maybe its time to consider a change of enterprise

The EU has forecast a 2 per cent increase in sheep prices.
The EU has forecast a 2 per cent increase in sheep prices.
John Large

John Large

A lot of silage has been saved in our area over the last two weeks. From reading the reports in the newspapers, other parts of the country have not fared as well, with even talk of cattle having to be re-housed.

Granted, we did get some heavy rain last week which put a stop to silage making. We made about 200 bales over the weekend. I would like to have the grass drier before bailing but I am happy now that all the bales are stacked in the yard. The crop was heavy and yielded over 10 bales per acre. We have more to cut as soon as the weather improves again. Taking all the cost of making silage, it isn't cheap to grow and harvest, so every effort should be made to get quality as good as possible.

Grass is growing well, lambs seem to be thriving. We are dividing most of the paddocks with electric netting, to graze off the area quickly. We give them enough for four days then move them on. The plan is to top off what they do not eat and let it green up for the next grazing. We will put out 20 units of nitrogen to push on leafy re-growth for lambs after weaning. Any fields with a good amount of clover will not get fertiliser. All lambs that have not received their second worm dose have to be dosed this week. It is easy to know which group is not dosed as some lambs are getting dirty rear ends and look dry in their coats.


We managed to sow our grass-seed three weeks ago. It was slow to start but has come on well in the last few days. It will not be ready for grazing when we wean the lambs but we should have some after-grass for the first two weeks after weaning. The dry hogget ewes have all been shorn and are gone to a stud farm for a few months grazing.

After reading the Teagasc National Farm Survey we have to speculate that the future of drystock farming is in serious trouble. It appears that milking cows is the only way to go in most parts of the country where you have a good land-base in one block.

Where do we go with the rest, where unsuitable land, fragmented farms or some other reason that prevents the establishment of a dairy unit?

One of the most interesting points in the report from a sheep farmer's point of view was that the EU Commission has forecast an increase in price of 2pc and production to fall by 2pc. This is due to New Zealand not filling its quota and live exports to Middle Eastern countries having increased. On the same page the headline reads, lamb prices drop 40c/kg. So if I sell 1,000 lambs per year at 20kg weight this 40c/kg price drop equates to €8 per lamb or €8,000 for 1,000 lambs. With the average farm income on sheep farms just over €11,000, you can see the effect the price of the product has on farm income.

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We cannot survive as expenses keep increasing and prices take a hammering. We need to be able to average a price of €110 per lamb just to have hope for the future. With Ramadan in June this year and hopefully some live exporters in operation, there should be no excuse for the factories to be cutting prices so severely.

The sheep-meat industry would also want to keep in mind that with milk quota being removed next year, other options will become available to drystock farmers, such as contract rearing of dairy replacements or supplying fodder and feed to the expanding dairy sector. Some could even change their enterprise to dairy. With the net profit per hectare from dairying five times higher than the average suckler or sheep farm can achieve, maybe its time we all should stop and think about our future.

John Large is a sheep farmer from Co Tipperary

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