Mild autumn weather means liver fluke remains a problem


Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

As we look forward to Christmas at Lyons, things have quietened down in relation to the sheep flock. We have removed the rams from the ewes and ewe lambs, who only got one repeat service.

As it stands, 45 of the 290 mature ewes mated have repeated, while 26 out of 96 ewe lambs have done the same. This gives apparent conception rates to first service of 85pc and 73pc respectively, although the true story will only be told at scanning. We have around 40 store lambs left on the farm and they are currently grazing forage rape and receiving some supplementary concentrates. As you would expect when stores are transferred to rape, they originally appeared to be losing weight but this is due to a reduction in gut fill. We're confident that carcass weight will actually be increasing.

This month is probably an appropriate time to look back on the past year. We have seen an increase in lamb prices, a good year for grass growth and a stabilisation in ewe numbers.

Unfortunately, much of this increase in price has been consumed by an increase in input costs. On the eProfit monitor, farms' gross output per ewe increased by €19, although gross margin per ewe increased by only €10, indicating that a price rise alone is not sufficient to increase profits and costs need to be closely monitored.

It should be noted, however, that last year's cold spring necessitated the feeding of a lot of extra concentrates which will obviously impact greatly on costs. With this in mind, it is interesting to look at the figures for the Teagasc BETTER farms programme, as recently presented at the Teagasc seminar series. Gross margins per hectare on the average BETTER farm increased by 80pc between 2008 and last year, while gross margins per hectare increased by 25pc on the average eProfit monitor farms.

For me, this indicates three things: a) the BETTER farm programme is delivering for the participants; b) great potential to increase profit exists in sheep production; c) the challenge is the same as ever: how to transfer these increases in efficiency and profitability to as many sheep farmers as possible.

Many farmers have expressed concern at the gap between the farm-gate price and retail price of lamb. Farmers also expressed a strong desire for lamb price to be based on quality, which is probably something everybody in the industry would like to see. With quality-based payments we will also see penalties for animals failing to meet the standards.

From speaking to some of the processors, some quality issues have begun to arise over the past six-to-eight weeks. Many lambs are presenting at the factory with significant fluke damage to the liver, leading to the condemnation of a large percentage of livers. I would encourage farmers to talk to their processor to get feedback on this issue and inform their fluke dosing strategy. The very mild November has ensured liver fluke remains a problem.

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On another note, anthelmintic resistance is becoming a concern in Ireland. It is a big problem in Britain and the southern hemisphere. Now is the time to be proactive in addressing this issue to ensure we still have effective anthelmintics in 15-20 years' time. Accurate and timely administration of anthelmintics, rotation of product types, and maintaining a susceptible worm population on the farm are key aspects of a sustainable parasite control plan.

Another quality issue is the breed of lamb and whether it has been shorn. Both have a large impact on the price of skins, with tight, unshorn lowland skins currently commanding the highest price.

There is a big penalty in terms of price for inferior quality skins, which to date has not been passed down to farmers. For the next four months, a lot of lambs passing through the factories will have received significant concentrate feeding.

Care needs to be taken with the formulation of these concentrates to avoid carcass taints, discoloration of the fat and excessively soft back fat.

In a global market where New Zealand is looking at alternative outlets to the EU despite, or perhaps because of, increasing demand and tighter supplies, there is potential in Irish sheep.

As an industry, we need to increase domestic consumption and ensure a consistent supply of a high quality product at a price that ensures the future of all sectors of the industry.

Dr Tommy Boland is a lecturer in sheep production at Lyons Research Farm, UCD. Email:

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