'I had a huge meal bill and too much grass when I didn't need it'
A later lambing date and a more efficient grazing strategy is the key to cutting meal bills
If there's one message top sheep farmer John Curley had for those attending an open day on his farm recently it was how good grass management can cut your meal bills.
John held an open day on his farm in Four Roads, Co Roscommon, as part of the Roscommon Lamb Festival, and has been a participant in the Better Sheep Farm programme since 2009.
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Since joining the programme, John has significantly reduced his concentrate meal bill and concentrate meal usage through increased grass growth and utilisation.
"I was lambing in the first week in February and I had a huge meal bill as I was aiming to sell lambs at top price.
"I had plenty of grass at the back end when I didn't need it. I had fields of grass at the backend and I was going around topping it.
Since then he decided to move his lambing date back to March 10 and reduced the number of grazing divisions on the farm from eight to 21. This has allowed better utilisation of grass on farm and has increased the quality of the grass available.
"We now aim for three-acre paddocks and graze them in three days," he explained.
The changes have seen the meal bills on the farm reduce significantly with John highlighting that last year he didn't introduce meal until the 1 of October.
A huge proportion of the lambs are also coming out of grass.
The Curley farm is a mixed grazing operation with 240 breeding ewes and 25 suckler cows.
John's breeding policy revolves around a reciprocal cross of Suffolk and Belclare ewes where Suffolk-sired ewes are mated with Belclare rams and vice versa.
The aim of John's breeding policy is to produce ewes that consistently produce twins and are capable of rearing two lambs to a target weaning weight of 34kg at 14 weeks of age.
He has been consistently achieving key targets such as litter size of 1.9 and a weaning rate in excess of 1.6 lambs per ewe joined with the ram.
"Twin lambs on the farm are hitting growth rates of about 300g per day. I draft lambs around 40-47kg with the weight rising as the year goes on."
John said the average price he got for his lambs was €100/hd in 2018.
However, he said it was a tough year on the farm with a cold and wet spring followed by the summer drought.
"I weaned the lambs at 11 weeks simply because the grass was very scarce. "I was lucky we had 10 acres of reseeded land and I strip grazed that with the lambs.
"It was a huge laboursome task. I moved the fence at least twice a day by just 2-3 feet at a time. We finished 90pc of the lambs of that without meal," he said.
Farm size: 36ha farm
Ewe numbers: 240
Replacement numbers: 70
Beef enterpise: 25 suckler cows
Average lamb price 2018: €100
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