Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 April 2018

Sheep: Back to reality after a big week on my farm

John Fagan and Claire Marshall pictured ahead of RTE's Big Week on the Farm. John runs sheep, beef, dairy drystock and some tillage on 400ac.
John Fagan and Claire Marshall pictured ahead of RTE's Big Week on the Farm. John runs sheep, beef, dairy drystock and some tillage on 400ac.
John Fagan

John Fagan

What a week I have just had. Sometimes I had to pinch myself to really believe that this was all happening. Before I knew what was going on there were celebs and weather forecasters all mucking in on the farm. To cap it all, Ivan Scott broke a world record shearing a sheep in my shed.

I had a lot of fun here last week with RTE's 'Big week on the Farm'. It was such a great opportunity to inform people about farming and about where their food comes from and I think that there was something in it for everyone.

Before I agreed to do it, one thing that was made clear was that this should be a positive but realistic show. I think we achieved that and hats off to the production team, camera operators, presenters and celebs for what they did.

I couldn't speak more highly of them. It was also good to meet all the weather people, whom we as farmers, depend upon so much. They are very committed and professional about their jobs.

Although there was a lot going on, the sheep didn't stop lambing and I was delighted when there was a bit of free time at the start of each day to disappear out to the fields to keep an eye on things. Obviously I had help in for the week, but nobody knows my farm better than I know it myself.

The weather has been and still is the biggest challenge over the last while. We are tantalisingly close to the end of the winter, but I have found over the years that April can have a nasty sting in its tail to remind us that we are still not home and hosed.

I have never seen such a year with grass tetany. I lost about six ewes so far with it and that is why I have bitten the bullet and started feeding roughly 300-500g of high magnesium nuts with 18pc protein to all groups of ewes and lambs around the farm.

This regime will continue until things begin to get milder. It is expensive but I've no choice because it's just one of those years.

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Having the weather forecasters literally standing in my yard was a great help as they had to be particularly accurate on their predictions for the weather in the immediate locality - otherwise they would have had a lot of explaining to do! Unfortunately there is more unsettled weather to come.

Grass growth is slow, possibly non-existent, and I want to get the replacement dairy heifers out as soon as possible.

I have ring-fenced roughly 45ac for them, but again the weather is holding everything back. I will let the smallest ones out first as it is so important for them to get sun on their backs and get them cycling and ready for AI in May.

I am very happy with how the hoggets are lambing, with very few cases requiring assistance. The thing that I have found over the years with lambing hoggets is that you need to treat them as a separate flock.

They are young and still growing so they need extra care and, more importantly, extra feeding. I will run them as a separate flock keeping them fed until I am certain that they are coping well with their new lambs.

As regards dosing lambs there is certainly no threat of a nematodirus hatch at the moment because it's so cold, but you have to expect that the weather will get milder over the next month.

Once it goes over 10 degrees things begin to happen and the department will issue a hatch alert for this.

I usually aim to get a dose into the lambs around the May bank holiday weekend, but it all depends on the weather. If you miss this dose you are going to miss out on a lot of thrive for the lambs.

I am also looking forward to using the combi-clamp for dosing and dagging the ewes. This handling unit takes the back-breaking work out of handling sheep. I don't mind hard work but trying to dag ewes whilst holding them in a race is, in a word, penitential.

I discovered the combi-clamp online. It's sold by Gibneys here in Oldcastle, Co Meath. I think it's worth a look it you need an easier life.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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