German students come to the rescue of farmer with 1,200 ewes

Rebecca Kassen from Hamburg and Maike Schablitcki from Bavaria on John Fagan’s farm. Photo: Doug O’Connor
Rebecca Kassen from Hamburg and Maike Schablitcki from Bavaria on John Fagan’s farm. Photo: Doug O’Connor
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

It is a spring that will stick in the memories of farmers for a long time to come.

Sheep farmer John Fagan from Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath - who has already delivered over 1,200 lambs so far this year - explained the severe pressures facing farmers as they were unable to get stock out of sheds and into the fields due to the cold, wet weather.

The Westmeath farmer was facing a severe labour shortage this year with difficulties recruiting a full-time worker, until three German students joined him for the lambing season.

"I'd have been under severe pressure only for the three students. They've been massively helpful. It would have been impossible," said Mr Fagan.

"It is a spring that will stick long in my memory - either as one to forget or one to remember and learn from. "I won't physically be able to do it again. I can imagine it being very tough for older farmers or those who couldn't get help."

There is mounting concern over the potential fodder shortages, with many parts of the south and south-east now feeling the pinch.

Soil conditions and continuing poor grass growth has prevented farmers from letting stock back out to the fields.

With many farmers running low on fodder, farm advisors have warned that the situation could escalate into a serious fodder crisis unless the weather improves.

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Kilkenny-based Teagasc advisor Terry Carroll said that a fodder survey had not been undertaken in the south-east but anecdotal evidence suggested that the farmers were running tight on fodder.

"Another two weeks of feeding would have people very tight," Mr Carroll said.

He said poor ground conditions in the south-east meant that farmers were unable to get stock out on grass.

Baled silage in the south is moving for between €25 and €28 per bale, however, Teagasc is advising farmers to feed increased meal where possible because of the variable quality of the silage on offer in some areas.

Dairy consultant Mary Kinston said grass growth in north Kerry was generally running at 50pc of the normal levels.

Growth rates of 10kg/ha/day are currently being recorded in the south-west, but rates of 25kg/ha/day would be closer to normal.

Low soil temperatures are continuing to restrict grass growth. Ms Kinston said if temperatures were to rise to 8°C, every subsequent jump of 1°C would add 14kg/ha/day to grass growth levels.

However, grazing grounds also needs to dry out, with growth levels taking a major hit on saturated soils.


Philip Creighton in Teagasc Athenry said the average soil temperature for March was 4.5°C, compared with temperatures normally around 7° or 8°C.

"It means growth has been severely handicapped for us. Growth measured this week at 6kgDM/ha a day, normally we'd be looking at that being up 15kg to 20kg for this week of the year. It's at least 50pc behind and when we put that into implications wise we have about 15 days of grass ahead of us when we should be up around 25.

"We are having to supplement ewes with a kilo of concentrates per ewe per day," he said. "It is tough going on people and people are under pressure."

However, he urged farmers to still ensure they are ready to go out with fertiliser as soon as temperatures are on the rise and soil is trafficable.

Testing has shown temperatures in recent days have risen to around 6°C, however, a further cold spell is forecast for this Easter weekend.

Irish Independent

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