Sheep: Farm closed up in good condition on the scale of things

Teagasc economist Kevin Hanrahan
Teagasc economist Kevin Hanrahan

I have never closed up the farm in such good condition. In the last number of years I've learned how important it is to close up ground at this time of year to be prepared for lambing next spring.

The rams have been busy running with the main flock for nearly six weeks. They look fairly tired, which is a good sign. I've removed all but one ram with each bunch of the mature ewes to mop up any repeats. Although they might be late it is handy having the odd few mature ewes lambing with the ewe lambs to foster away pets. I plan to run the Ile de France rams with the ewe lambs for three weeks removing all rams on November 26, which should bring lambing to an end on April 20 next year.

Some lambs that I killed recently were very heavily penalised for being over-fat. My scales has been acting up recently and I have sent it off to get checked out. It might have gotten some water damage as I did notice the weights fluctuating when I was weighing them.

The scales has become a vital piece of equipment on the farm, weighing up to 400 lambs per hour. Even though it's a nuisance having it gone, it's probably the best time of year to get it looked at when things are quiet. The fact that I was feeding the ram lambs meal as well as fodder rape didn't help the situation and they seemed to have thrived better than I thought.

I am not used to working with fodder rape. The crop that I sowed last August is only so-so. Fodder rape is very prone to compaction in soil and it hasn't done as well as I would have liked.

Also the pH of the soil was quite low at 5.5 and this hasn't helped matters either. Like anything, it's a learning curve. That being said, I am glad to have it there for the ewes come next December as I believe that a fodder crop like rape or kale will really suit my flock. Getting through the winter as cheaply as possible is the key to profitability with any farm. So it is work in progress with the fodder rape and it will be interesting to see how the mature ewes manage on into lambing in March.


I was interested in Kevin Hanrahan of Teagasc's recent piece on the outlook for the sheep industry for next year. He reckons we won't see any massive fluctuations in sheep prices over the next few years but we will see opportunities for sheep farmers to increase their profits by reducing their input costs.

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Nothing new there some might say, but he is correct in saying that the sheep industry enjoys relative stability compared to other enterprises.

Reducing our production costs would be easier if diesel, feed and fertiliser prices continue their downward trend. But there is also opportunities to reduce costs if we harness winter fodder crops for sheep such as rape, kale, sugar beet and swedes.

November is a month I usually associate with paperwork. Insurance, herd register and the tax man usually get looked after during this month. Insurance always intrigues me, since you would really have to be the unluckiest person on the planet if all the things you are insured for actually happened to you.

The much anticipated budget didn't do too much for sheep farmers. The tax benefits won't be felt until next year but I suppose they are progressive.

I think that a headage payment could be justified to sheep farmers provided efficient profitable sheep farming practices are adopted. The STAP discussion groups have been a huge success and should be better funded.

I got my water conservation grant. Considering that I have invested over €15,000 on water services for my house and farm it's nice to get something back. If I got a consistent supply of water delivered to my door for €260 per annum I'd be delighted.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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