Push for €1,000/ha gross for big profits
The recent increase in sheep prices, together with the introduction of the new Sheep Grassland Scheme, has brought a buzz into the sheep sector of late. After years in the doldrums, many farmers are looking again at sheep with the aim of improving profits from their sheep enterprises.
In the Teagasc sheep programme, the focus is on driving up profitability. How can that be achieved? Stocking rates, good reproductive performance, higher litter size, good weaning rates and high lamb-growth rates will all contribute.
On the other side, controlling costs while maintaining a healthy flock are critical. Teagasc has set €1,000 gross margin per hectare as an achievable target for the lowland farms in the Better farm sheep programme.
This is where we are working with commercial lowland and hill sheep producers to improve production and returns on their farms. These farms are pushing out the boundaries in terms of the levels of performance that can be achieved. The target of a gross margin per hectare of €1,000 is to be achieved by:
- Improving the production efficiency of the ewe flock through increased weaning rate, improved lamb growth and lower mortality.
- Increasing stocking rates by carrying more ewes/ha, improving grassland management through measuring and monitoring grass supply, better fertiliser use and better-quality winter feed.
- Reducing costs by using less concentrates, adopting a flock health plan and improving ewe condition.
- Home breeding of replacements.
The table (right) shows the average performance of lambs from birth to seven weeks on the Teagasc Lowland Better Farms for last year and this.
Despite poorer growth and a shortage of grass in the spring, lamb performance is comparable to that of the previous year. Due to poor growing conditions in spring, more meals were fed to ewes post-lambing than was planned.
However, with good overall flock and grass management, the growth levels to seven weeks are acceptable and on target.
While breeding-ewe numbers have been steadily declining, not just in Ireland but across Europe, those remaining have found the enterprise to be profitable. The down side is the labour required to manage the flock efficiently.