Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

Sheep farmers not sitting on the fence

More and more farmers taking the plunge and moving away from a set stocking system to maximise returns

More and more farmers are turning to fencing to maximise returns
More and more farmers are turning to fencing to maximise returns
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

While grass measurement and rotational grazing has traditionally been the preserve of the dairy farmer, more and more sheep farmers are embracing the system to maximise returns on their farms.

Research by Teagasc's Philip Creighton suggests farmers can double their productivity by making the switch.

"The average output on Irish sheep farms is about 200kg of lamb carcase sales per hectare. This is based on a stocking rate of seven to eight ewes per hectare, and an average of 1.3 lambs sold per ewe," he says.

However, the most recent data from the demonstration farm at Athenry shows that carcase sales of 400kg/ha is achievable with stocking rates of 12 ewes per hectare and 1.8 lambs sold per ewe.

This was achieved with ewes being fed an average of just 20kg/hd of meals, while only 10pc of the lambs received concentrate feeding.

"Obviously, the actual level of performance is going to vary from farm to farm, depending on soil type and fertility, the prolificacy of the ewes being used, and the level of grassland management," adds Mr Creighton.

"But one thing that is an absolute must to improve productivity is a fencing system that allows you to move away from a set stocking system. And I've yet to meet a farmer that regretted installing a rotational grazing system."

Sheep fencing has not been included as one of the measures in the new TAMS, a move that has been heavily criticised by both the IFA and the ICSA.

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"While the previous schemes may have been under-subscribed, there has to be an understanding that low income sheep farmers can only avail of grant schemes when their finances allow," says ICSA chairman John Brooks.

He was referring to the last TAMS that coincided with the poor year of 2013 when many sheep producers didn't have the resources to finance improved sheep fencing.

"Sheep fencing is an invaluable aid to better grassland management and it should be a priority if we are serious about improving the viability of the sector and increasing exports," adds Mr Brooks.

Mr Creighton believes sheep producers should not lose hope of grant aid being made available for sheep fencing in future tranches of TAMS.

"I think there's a good chance of that happening because it does make a lot of sense in terms of the overall objective of the scheme," he says.

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