Sean Conway (pictured) farms at Coondrihara, Lavagh, Ballymote at the foot of Knocknashee in Co Sligo.
The farm is of heavy soil type by nature, and this was one of the reasons why Sean changed his farming enterprise 16 years ago from dairying to contract rearing and sheep.
Getting the simple management practices right on the farm has allowed Sean to maximise flock output and minimise variable costs. What are the simple practices adopted on the Conway farm?
They all revolve around a single common denominator: grass.
An adequate supply of quality leafy grass in August and September ensures that replacement ewe lambs are at least 48kg and ewes are in good body condition score, 3.5 and above, going to the ram in mid-October.
Having all lambs sold by the end of September makes sure that there is enough grass to match ewe requirements prior to housing in late December.
Closing paddocks in rotation as they are grazed from early October almost always guarantees an adequate supply of grass for lambing in mid-March.
Weaning will take place on the Conway farm this week with the lambs now around 12-14 weeks old.
Sean believes that ewe milk contribution to lamb growth rate is minimal at this stage and he would rather concentrate his efforts on having good-quality leafy swards available to the lambs from July onwards.
This facilitates a high percentage of lambs weaned off grass with no concentrate input. Sean's target is to have all lambs sold by late September.
The best-growing ewe lambs - 35kg+ now and bred off the Belclare ram - are marked to be retained for breeding.
Sean feels that the main contributing factor to maximising output from ewe lamb replacements is having them as close to 50kg as possible at mating.
After weaning, ewes are held in a paddock grazed by ewes and lambs the previous day prior to weaning. They remain in this paddock for one week to dry up.
The ewes are then accessed for culling; udders and teeth are checked and lame ewes are separated from the remainder of the flock treated with antibiotics and foot-bathed daily for one week. Ewes that do not respond to treatment are culled immediately.
Dry ewes are then used as grassland managers: they follow lambs in the paddocks, grazing the grass that the lambs leave behind down to 4cm.
This practice ensures quality leafy grass for the lambs in the next rotation. Sean likes to have his ewes in as good a condition as possible; he targets that all ewes be in body condition score 3.5+ going to the ram and prefers to leave enough time for them to reach this target.
Individual ewes in the flock that milked well during lactation and hogget ewes can often be in poor body condition score at weaning and will have to gain up to 15kg in body weight over the summer months.
Access to quality grass and a period of 12-14 weeks will be required to achieve target body condition.
Sean will normally run the thin ewes with the replacement ewe lambs as a separate grazing group, giving them preferential treatment and high-quality grass.
Having ewes in optimum body condition score at mating has ensured a scanning rate of 2.00+ and a compact lambing period on the Conway farm in recent years.
Constant monitoring and planning ahead is important to maximise flock performance on any sheep farm, and Sean is already planning for next year's lamb crop at weaning time.
Operating at a low to medium stocking rate of 115kg of organic N per Ha or 1.4lus per Ha requires an additional set of grassland management skills to ensure a constant supply of quality grass ahead of stock throughout the grazing season.
"Grass quality is much more difficult to control when compared to a system with higher stocking rates and where higher fertiliser application rates are applied," says Sean.
Sean's current stocking rate allows him to make 100pc of his winter feed requirements in the form of surplus grass harvested from paddocks that become too strong for grazing.
The first paddocks were removed this year in the first week of May and on April 14 last year.
"I use this system as a grass management tool and as a means of controlling the overall amount of nitrogen applied per year," says Sean.
Nitrogen fertiliser in the form of protected urea is only applied when required on a little and often basis. An annual application of P and K is applied to replace offtakes - potassium is often the forgotten element especially when grass is harvested from a paddock system.
"Silage is not a cheap feed especially when yields per acre are low, so I try to ensure that what goes into the bale is of top quality, 75 DMD+."
Last year's silage cuts ranged from 70 to 78 DMD, with the vast majority over 75 DMD which greatly reduced the concentrate requirement on the farm over the winter period for both the ewes pre-lambing and the contract reared heifers.
In fact, no concentrates were fed to heifers over the winter period and an average daily gain of 0.62kg per day was achieved pre-turnout in mid-march.
Every 5pc increase in DMD is equivalent to 1.5-2.0kg of concentrates for store cattle and feeding ewes 75 DMD silage can reduce concentrate input by up to 15kg/ewe in the last six weeks of pregnancy for the twin-bearing ewe when compared to an average quality silage of 67 DMD.
"I had all my winter feed requirement harvested by mid-June," says Sean.
With the recent rain and good growing conditions he will have to remove more surpluses over the coming weeks and will sell some silage in the form of round bales to local farmers.
A faecal sample taken last week from the lambs showed a strongyle worm count of 250 eggs per gram.
Lambs have been dosed once this year with a white wormer for nematodirus. The faecal egg count would indicate that further dosing is not required at this stage.
Counts taken recently by farmers in Sean Conway's discussion group show similar results, which are probably a reflection of the very dry conditions that existed up until now.
However, the situation can change fairly rapidly, with the recent rain creating ideal conditions for an increase in the worm population on pasture.
"I plan to send off a sample once a week for the next few weeks and will dose the lambs with a yellow wormer when the count rises above 500 eggs per gram," says Sean.
Lambs that are near slaughter weights will be left undosed and together with the ewes that graze after the lambs should ensure a large proportion of untreated worms not exposed to the drench.
They are called refugia and dilute the effect of any resistant worms that are passed out onto the pasture and subsequently picked up by grazing lambs.
A pooled faecal sample made up in the lab from 10 samples collected from individual lambs costs from €15-€20.
This is a low cost when compared to dosing lambs when not required, the cost of the product used and the labour required to deliver the dose.
Targeting treatments and dosing only when necessary will reduce the onset of anthelmintic resistance in Sean's flock and in your flock if you follow the same procedure.
Tom Coll is a Teagasc advisor based in Mohill, Co Leitrim