Health monitoring and grass measurement will help offset skyrocketing input costs
It has been a busy month for us, drafting lambs and preparing the flock for the breeding season. I have all the rams out with the mature ewes so I expect lambing to start around March 17.
Since 2018 I have moved to a later lambing date as it suits my farm with regard to spring grass growth, I have found that lambing any earlier only leads to increased feed and labour costs for no real benefit.
The lambs that I am drafting now, having been born in April, are being finished off redstart, which is really effective at fattening them, putting on roughly 300g a day.
I have 75pc of my lambs sold and I reckon the rest will be gone by mid-November. Everything is on target, even the price.
With the price of meal and fertiliser gone through the roof, you have to consider ways to save money. I can’t see too many sheep farmers running off to spend €600 per tonne on urea for the spring.
A lot of people don’t realise that high fertiliser costs will lead to high food prices, or a shortage of food and then high food prices — something the general consumer won’t be too pleased about.
My measurements show that grass growth has dropped significantly as the grazing season draws to a close. We are now growing 31kg/DM/ha, and falling, and demand is 33kg/DM/ha, so it’s time to gradually close up the farm to ensure I have plenty of grass next spring.
I aim to have 80pc of the farm closed by the end of November, giving fields 120 days’ rest.
Measuring grass has really helped me understand and manage my fields better.
Fields with high levels of clover in the sward clearly recover quicker than fields with low levels. Some fields weren’t performing well and had to be reseeded.
I know people roll their eyes when lads go on about measuring — I was one of them — but you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and with the costs of meal and fertiliser on the rise, better grassland management will save you money and help you remain profitable.
I also continuously monitor the health of the flock. I regularly take faecal samples to check for worms — another effective way of keeping costs down and avoiding the unnecessary use of doses.
The cost of taking faecal samples is far less than the cost of dosing stock unnecessarily. You just have to get used to it.
I also ask the factory to check the livers of any culls ewes to find out the fluke status, and if possible I bring anything that died to the lab for a post-mortem. You need to know what’s happening and why.
After the breeding season is over I am going to vaccinate the entire flock against lameness.
I have been using ‘foot vax’ on my pedigree rams, which has worked really well. I am confident that by vaccinating the ewes, they will do better at grass and at breeding.
It will be expensive to vaccinate the entire flock initially, however the cost benefit will be seen with less meal and more productive sheep.
The damage lameness causes to your flock goes under the radar. I will continue to foot-bath the flock even after vaccination, but there is often underlying lameness in a flock that adversely affects their productivity. The vaccine, I believe, will sort this out.
It’s good to see the Government has committed €100m to the sheep welfare scheme for 2023-27. However, it’s disappointing to realise that there is no increase in the payment beyond the €10 per head based on the reference year of 2017.
It was a good opportunity to build on the successes of the scheme of the last few years. By 2023 we will be under the new CAP regime.
I have found that with all these changes, good farmers should have nothing to fear. My BPS payment will be reduced, but I think I will have the opportunity to make up for the lost income by availing of new schemes such as the new REPs.
It seems reasonable but there is always room for improvement.
John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath