Farm Ireland

Friday 27 April 2018

Sheep: There should be no fear of a fodder crisis next winter

Judge Mr Ronnie Black inspects the ram lamb owned by Shaun Gahan Borris, Co Carlow. Photo: Roger Jones.
Judge Mr Ronnie Black inspects the ram lamb owned by Shaun Gahan Borris, Co Carlow. Photo: Roger Jones.
John Fagan

John Fagan

With the silage cut, the sheep shorn and slurry going out, the last of the big jobs of the summer are nearly done.

It is nice to see some light at the end of the tunnel after a challenging spring and early summer. Grass growth rocketed here in the first three weeks of June.

I went from a position of worrying whether or not I'd have enough grass to a situation where I had so much grass I didn't know what to do with it. I now have the biggest pit of silage I have ever made so there will be no fodder shortages here for quite some time.

The wet weather is making things very tricky at the moment. I would have liked to be able to make some haylage when I had so much grass available, but the monsoon season had kicked in and mother nature wasn't going to allow for it.

The safest option was to make pit silage out of everything that had gotten too far ahead. I'll close up about 20 acres with a view to making haylage later in the season. I find that having haylage is handy during the winter months as both sheep and cattle love it.

I managed to draft roughly 200 lambs away before weaning. It is significantly less than what I drafted last year when I got almost 500 lambs away on one kill prior to weaning. I am putting this down to the poor weather we got in April when lambs missed out on thrive at an important time of year. I also had less ground available to the lambs as I had ringfenced a certain amount for the dairy heifers that depend on early turnout for breeding and thrive.

All the lambs were weaned last week. I think that the sooner you get this over with in June the better.

It gives the ewes time to recuperate for the next breeding season. I have often heard it said that lambing for the next season starts in July of the previous year.

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As soon as the ewes are safely dried off, I'll separate them out based on condition score, giving preferential treatment to thinner ewes and ewe hoggets that reared lambs.

I'll cull the heavier ewes that I notched last March at lambing that would have had problems such as prolapse but nevertheless managed to rear lambs.

I find notching their ears a very effective way of recording problem sheep that would otherwise go undetected in the flock and result in more problems next spring.

Over the coming week I am going to separate the remaining lambs into various different groups.

The ram lambs and ewe lambs are firstly separated. I then further separate them into different groups based on weight.

For example, ram lambs under 38 kilos are left on grass and ram lambs over 38 kilos are introduced to ad lib access to meal at grass. I find that this keeps them moving throughout the season.

It doesn't take too much meal to finish them off, in the region of €5 per head.

It is important to weigh them into their groups as there will be less competition between the bigger lambs and smaller ones and generally the flock tends to merge together when there is less competition between lambs.

The upside of making so much silage is that there will be plenty of after grass around to help the lambs along the way.

I heard reports from the mart that store lambs are going well and €50 along with the weight is the run of it. It is somewhat tempting to perhaps cash in the lambs and sell but it is not something I am used to.

The ewe lambs are similarly treated although I don't give them any meal. I intend to sell all my mule cross ewe lambs as breeders this year.

Over the years I've been selling to a few loyal customers who find the mule cross ewe whether Texel or Suffolk an excellent breeding sheep.

Hopefully July will be a kinder more settled month. Over the next few weeks, after I get a few more lambs sold, I plan to pay a few more bills and maybe even get away for a break.

It's hard to make decisions when you are very busy. A decision made in haste can often end up being the wrong decision. I am thinking about reducing my numbers of sheep to a more manageable number and also about pushing the lambing date out a little later in the year.

There is a lot of expenses incurred lambing sheep in early March and the way the prices are dropping in June there is little point in rushing to have lambs early in the year when the price is pulled just when you have them ready.

It is also worth noting that Ramadan 2017 will be earlier, falling on May 27, so is it worth lambing really early or is worth kicking for touch and lambing later? It is food for thought.

July is also a good month to head to the local agricultural shows. They're lots of fun and its great to see so many people out and about promoting farming and enjoying the summer holidays.

Finally, Brexit, its worrying, but is it surprising? The EU has in many ways only itself to blame. It has become disconnected from its citizens. As farmers we are subjected to many rules and regulations to provide 'safe food', but these seem to mean nothing when it comes to importing food from, for example, South America.

Family farming in Ireland is under pressure to survive and the EU is paving the way for what I call 'corporate farming'. So maybe while everyone is castigating the UK for leaving the EU, perhaps they have a point?

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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