Farm Ireland

Monday 21 January 2019

British 'three-tier' sheep system could be the way forward

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Tom Staunton

It's the time of year for organising and shopping around.

I am currently pricing different rations for ewe's pre-lambing. There is a big difference in pricing from mill to mill, but also a variation in the quality of the products in the different feeds.

I always look for quality ingredients in the rations - such as barley, soya bean meal and maize - and I prefer feeding a ration over a nut.

I feel I can judge the quality of the mix better by looking at a ration.

Hopefully my silage results will show decent levels of protein and energy which will allow me to reduce the amount of meal I will have to feed pre-lambing.

With the recent cold and wet weather conditions I expect that I will have to feed a little bit earlier than usual.

Ground is saturated and bare and the risk of fluke is high with the wet weather we have experienced over the past few months.

The ewes were dosed for fluke earlier on and will get another dose around Christmas time when there is help around.

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I haven't tested for fluke, but from previous experience with these weather conditions it potentially could be a big problem if left untreated.

Looking back at the sheep trade for 2017 there were perhaps more positives than negatives.

The hogget, ewe and ram kill numbers were up this year. The lamb kill is also up across the country to date by 5pc.

It is positive to see numbers up and also at this stage of the year that price is creeping up.

The price of spring lamb was sluggish to start with, but when the hogget trade dried up lamb prices recovered and were quite stable all summer.

Store lambs on the other hand started off well in late June but prices and demand plummeted after this.

Many mart reports from all over the country saw poor sales for breeding sheep.

This was surprising given the lamb trade in the factories was quite stable.

The specialised and organised sheep sales went well throughout the country. Farmers in these groups are producing top quality breeding stock.

Looking forward, the talk of Brexit is a big issue for the farming community with many uncertainties around borders and tariffs. It is something that will be discussed for years to come.

One issue that I see facing the sheep industry is the exodus of young sheep farmers or potential sheep farmers, particularly in hill farming areas.

Most family farms are not in a position to pass on the family farm to the next generation until they are of pension age.

By then the younger generation have lost or are losing interest.

Hill farming is facing this head on and we could be watching the last generation of farmers farming the mountains and hills.

The panic that occurred a few years ago about the need for de-stocking on the mountains has now gone full circle where hills and mountains are under-grazed and to the point they are a serious hazard in the summer as we saw with the many gorse fires this year.

It is not too late to save the tradition of hill farming, but serious steps must be taken to preserve this way of life and to manage the mountains and hills in a sustainable way.

The British 'three-tier system' of farming sheep could potentially help the whole sheep sector here.

This system sees hill and upland ewes mated with maternal breeds and the offspring are sold onto lowland and commercial farms for producing prime lamb with good carcass quality

High health status replacements are bred from the hill flocks which gives the lowland farms a selection of maternal replacements.

This allows the commercial farms to keep their farm focused on producing factory and or butcher type lambs.

It also can help hill farmers by providing them with an alternative market for their lamb.

This is a system that has been proven in the UK for hundreds of years and has the potential to succeed here.

Merry Christmas to everyone and best wishes for 2018.

Tom Staunton farms in Tourmakeady, Co Mayo

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