Sheep farming demands Tom Crean-like endurance

Tom Crean.
Tom Crean.
John Fagan

John Fagan

I've been busy getting the flock ready for the breeding season. I let the rams out on October 22 so lambing 2019 should kick off around on March 15-17.

It's over two weeks later than normal and I'm delighted about it. I am hoping that I will be able to lamb out doors in balmy spring weather unlike this year which was on a par with a Tom Crean Antarctic expedition.

There are some similarities with the life led by Tom Crean and sheep farming in Ireland these days.

Crean, the famous Kerry man, travelled with Scott on pioneering trips to the South Pole.

Like Irish sheep farmers, he had to endure freezing weather, worked in extremely unforgiving conditions and got paid very little for his tremendous achievements.

And finally, he received little or no acknowledgement from the state authorities, much the same as Irish sheep farmers.

Back on the farm I gave the ewes a mineral bolus which lasts six months.

It contains selenium, iodine and cobalt and is supposed to do wonders for my flock. I hope it does what it says on the tin.

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It does, however, qualify me for my Sheep Welfare payment and mineral supplementation post breeding which is one of the requirements, and giving the bolus now, as it last 6 months, ticks the box.

Speaking of the Sheep Welfare Scheme, keep an eye on your numbers and remember that if you drift below what you applied for with mature ewes on your census last year you could get yourself in a bit of hot water with the Department and incur a penalty.

So, keep a tally on your situation regarding ewes.

If you drop below, you need to notify the sheep section of your local DVO. You should also keep an eye for ewes that are missing tags. You can re-tag them with a pink replacement tag but this ewe must go straight to the factory.

The grass situation on the farm is fine, I'm gradually closing up fields as I batten down the hatches for winter. I'll spread dung and clear out any remaining slurry tanks around the place. I have been waiting for lime for over a month now.

Apparently, there's a shortage, so farmers must all be focusing on the fertility of their soil this year which is a good thing. I hope to get it on before the weather breaks and allow it time to settle in the fields over winter.

Autumn is an ideal time to spread lime on grassland. Keeping the PH of your soil right is the best money you will ever spend.

If you are in doubt about a few fields and their performance you should get them soil tested and then you'll know where you stand with their fertility.

I am still drafting lambs as they get fit. The ram lambs are nearly gone; the last few were plagued with lameness. It's something that they all seem to pick up when feeding around troughs.

It really knocks their thrive. I moved them to a fresh field having foot bathed them in zinc sulphate and they're back on track. I also limed around the troughs. They missed nothing except poor prices so hopefully we are turning a corner in that regard.

My ewe lambs are tipping along nicely. They get no meal and I am just letting them do their thing and grow. As soon as they get anywhere near to finishing I'll stick them on some meal and they should move along swiftly enough.

You need to keep them dosed and foot-bathed, while dagging any that are in a bit of bother. I aim to house cattle at the end of the month and slowly but surely the farm will be closed off until next spring.

As its generally a quiet enough time of year, it's no harm to reflect on the year that's passed.

It has certainly been a tough one. If you can get a break away, take it - the place won't fall to pieces if you're gone for a weekend or a week or even a day away - it can do wonders for the soul.

This week, I am heading to the renewable energy show being held in Kilkenny.

It's interesting to see what the options are out there. I have a dream of not having to pay an electricity bill anymore now that all the power I need could be generated from the solar panels on my sheep shed. With technology moving the way it is, that dream could very soon actually become a reality.

Our European friends have been using this technology for years so let's get on it.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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