Challenges facing sheep farms are global


The challenges facing sheep farming globally are remarkably similar
The challenges facing sheep farming globally are remarkably similar
Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

Ewes and lambs are currently grazing silage aftermath in Lyons. This silage was harvested on May 11 and has shown excellent regrowth. This is a new area of ground not previously grazed by sheep.

It was reseeded last autumn and is destined to become part of a new grazing study, so at the moment is not subdivided and runs to about 30 acres. While covers are low at the moment, the fact that it will be grazed as a single block means it would get out of control if we were to allow any further growth prior to introducing the sheep.

This land availability is timely as the hill ground (the traditional sheep grazing area of the farm) has suffered as a result of the low rainfall this spring.

The total rainfall for April was just under 10mm as opposed to the normal rainfall of 52mm. Rainfall up to May 24 was 27mm, which is around half of the total rainfall we would experience in May. The cumulative rainfall for 2017 is only 70pc of normal rainfall for our farm.

Thankfully, the rainfall of recent days will help to address the soil moisture deficit on the sheep grazing ground.

However, while grass growth has struggled in the last few weeks, the fact that the grass consumed by the lambs has been high in DM and the weather is dry, lambs have performed well.

Up to six weeks of age, twin lambs were growing at just over 350 grams per day.

All lambs were dosed with a white drench to control nematodirus, and all sheep were foot-bathed while moving from the hill ground to the after grass. The dry weather conditions have also minimised lameness issues this spring, which no doubt has also helped in achieving good lamb growth rates.

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In last month's article I referenced the fact that we were hosting a workshop on the SMARTGRASS project which looked at the use of alternative grazing varieties or multi-species swards for sheep production.

This meeting was attended by a wide range of industry stakeholders including representatives from the seed industry, processors, policymakers and farmers.

Some of the key findings that stand out for me are: the potential to achieve high levels of animal performance from well-managed perennial ryegrass based systems; the potential to increase this level of performance with multi-species swards; the need to tailor the management for multi-species swards; the reduced need for fertiliser and anthelmintic treatment with multi-species swards; and perhaps unexpectedly, that one size does not fit all. Last week, I also had the opportunity to attend the International Sheep Veterinary Congress in Harrogate. This provided a much-needed release from exam marking!

The challenges facing sheep farming globally are remarkably similar and revolved around genetics, health, nutrition and sustainability.

While our climatic conditions here do present many challenges from a sheep management point of view, our climate and geographic location also protect us from many catastrophic diseases that are endemic in other parts of the world.

An outlook on the economics of sheep meat production globally highlighted two major concerns, firstly we have the stagnation in sheep meat consumption per person while consumption of white-meats continues to accelerate.

Secondly then is the overarching spectre of Brexit and what impact that will have, not only on our own trade with the UK, but also the UK's trade with the rest of the world.

To the forefront of this latter point is the role of the Chinese market. China is the largest producer, consumer and importer of sheep meat globally, accounting for 25-30pc of all these metrics.

If the UK market does become less accessible for Irish sheep meat, no doubt there will be a strong focus on China as an alternative destination.

Assoc Prof Tommy Boland; Lecturer in Sheep Production, Lyons Farm, University College Dublin. @Pallastb

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