Tomás O’Leary has bolstered performance on his Kerry farm by following BETTER Programme advice
To meet the targets he has set himself in conjunction with the Teagasc BETTER Sheep Farm Programme, Tomás O’Leary has been making a few changes.
In particular, he has cut his numbers and improved his ewes’ body condition.
Tomás, his wife Eileen and children Míchéal, Yvonne and Sinead farm just over 40 adjusted hectares in two blocks of land 27km apart in Kerry.
Traditionally a suckler and sheep farm, the O’Learys joined the BETTER programme in 2013 with the aim of increasing the performance and profitability of both their sheep and cattle enterprises.
Today the farm runs a mid-season ewe flock (210 mature ewes and 50 ewe lambs) in addition to contract rearing 90 Friesian-cross heifers.
One of the major focuses of BETTER is to have a defined breeding programme. The target for the O’Leary farm is to achieve a litter size of approximately 2.3 lambs per mature ewe, with around two lambs weaned per ewe joined.
The 50 ewe lambs generally perform a bit lower, scanning around 1.7-1.8 and weaning around 1.4-1.5. In a nutshell the aim is to produce around 470-500 lambs available for sale and to select replacements from the 260 ewes put to the ram annually.
Achieving this level of output requires a combination of the correct female genetics (in this case a Belclare x Suffolk or Texel ewe), coupled with suitable high performance terminal genetics (rams selected for lamb survival and days to slaughter) and having ewes in good body condition at mating time.
This year the mature ewes are being mated with Texel and Belclare rams, whereas the ewe lambs are all mated to Charollais rams.
In 2021 replacements will only kept from Texel and Belclare crosses. All Charollais cross lambs will be sold for slaughter.
The breeding season for the mature ewes started on October 10 and it is anticipated that over 95pc of the ewes will be mated in the first 17 days of the breeding season.
Rams will be introduced with the ewe lambs on October 24 (two weeks after the mature ewes).
All rams will be removed on November 21, giving the mature ewes a six-week breeding season and the ewe lambs a four-week breeding season.
In 2019 ewe body condition was not as high as Tomás would have liked and this resulted in a lower scan and weaning rate than usual.
This year particular attention has been paid to improving ewe body condition in the run-up to mating, and of particular importance is the low number of ewes that fall below body condition score (BCS) of 3.0 (see table below).
The O’Learys’ suckler cows and finishing cattle enterprises were replaced in 2018 with a contract-rearing enterprise to reduce market volatility and increase margins.
This year ewe numbers have been reduced by 60 head from 320 to 260 to better match stocking rate to grass supply and ease the pressure somewhat.
The home farm is in Readrinagh, 3km north of the village of Barraduff and consists of 13ha of heavy, difficult land which is primarily used for silage production (two cuts) and some grazing with ewes in the spring and autumn/winter.
The ewes are housed on the home farm for the winter period.
The second block of land is 27km away, at Rosnacarton Beg (12km north-west of Killarney) and consists of 27ha of good dry land. This block is the main grazing block for both the cattle and sheep, with occasional surplus grass removed as silage when growth allows.
This year, this block is on target to grow 15 tonnes of grass dry matter per hectare, which has enabled it to carry all the grazing animals for the main grazing period.
This block also contains the cattle housing, which means a daily round-trip of 55km for Tomas to feed and check stock
You can watch a short video clip in which Tomás discusses his breeding programme here:
Michael Gottstein is head of the Sheep KT Programme at Teagasc, Macroom, Co Cork