Sheep: Ile de France rams have earned their keep

John Fagan says many dairy farmers would be better off on the dole
John Fagan says many dairy farmers would be better off on the dole
John Fagan

John Fagan

As the lambing for 2015 draws to a close I can only reflect on what has been a fairly successful season.

The ewe lambs have been lambing away easily and I am very happy with the Ile de France Rams I put with them. There has not been one difficult birth and most of them gave birth themselves without any assistance.

The Ile de France lambs are quick to get going once born, and this, along with their good conformation, makes them an ideal choice as an easy-lambing ram.

With ewe lambs it would be great if you could arrange for each one of them to just have one lamb. I am reluctant to let them rear twins as I find it puts a lot of pressure on them.

In the situation where a ewe lamb is rearing twins you have to supplement them with meal. This adds extra cost and labour so for most of mine I have taken off the twins and put them on the automatic feeder to be reared as pets.

I have roughly 90 pets this year and I am gradually taking them off the feeder and putting them on meal. I don't intend to let them out this year and I'll finish them all inside.

Hopefully I will be getting them away by the end of June.

Last week I spent the week dosing and foot bathing the ewes and lambs from the main flock that are roughly six weeks old and starting to nibble more grass.

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It is the time of year for the nematodirus worm. The cold and warm weather ensure ideal conditions for them to hatch. In fact the Department of Agriculture issued a warning for this in mid April. If you miss this dose it will knock the thrive on your lambs and may even result in sudden deaths in lambs.

It is also a great chance to foot bath the entire flock. I generally try to footh bath the flock once a month in a 5-10pc solution of zinc sulphate. This nips in the bud any lameness or scald.

One thing I noticed this year was that ewes and lambs coming off older pastures were a lot dirtier than those coming from reseeded fields.

This confirmed to me that reseeded fields have less of a worm burden than older swards.

Grass tetany

The grass situation is just about holding its own. The early morning frosts are not helping, but I suspect it will really kick off as the weather gets milder and inevitably wetter.

When the weather is unsettled it is important to be mindful of grass tetany.

I've placed high magnesium buckets all around the fields and I'll use up the last few bags of meal I have over the few days of unsettled weather to hopefully keep tetany at bay.

I sold off the last of my beef heifers and I am glad that I don't have to replace them this year as I hear the marts have gone bananas. In fact, I am glad to be exiting the beef game and I am replacing it with dairy heifers on a contract rearing arrangement with a local dairy farmer.

Contract rearing makes a lot of sense when compared to beef farming. I don't have to front up a load of money buying in cattle and waiting to hopefully make a meagre profit 18 months later if the meat processors are feeling generous.

I have to reach weight targets and monitor and manage the heifers throughout the next two years returning them to the dairy farmer ready to calve.

Contract rearing presents a good opportunity for drystock farmers.

The beef industry in Ireland has turned into an absurdity. The euro is at a record low against sterling, and beef prices haven't risen all that much depsite there being a supposed shortage'.

When I added up the costs of keeping beef heifers, the bank actually had more from it than I did when I paid them back the interest on the stocking loan I used to buy the cattle.

Beef farmers on average now earn less than people on the dole. In fact, if beef farmer incomes were not subsidised by the single farm payment I doubt if many would bother with cattle. That's the sad reality.

I hope the dairy industry takes off, as a rising tide can lift all boats and will create opportunities for sheep and beef farmers.

John Fagan is a sheep farmer from Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath.


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