John Fagan: 'A message for the Minister: get on the blower to Beijing - the Chinese have gone mad for lamb!'

John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
File photo
John Fagan

John Fagan

The most profitable sheep farmers are the ones who breed their own replacement lambs and don't have to buy in any from elsewhere.

This is probably the most important thing that I have learned as a sheep farmer. Breeding your own replacement stock means that you don't run the risk of importing disease or problems into the flock and also its cheaper to keep your own ewe lambs from your own ewes.

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August is the time of year when the focus on the farm turns to preparing the ewes for the upcoming breeding season.

The flock has been weaned for over a month so I went through them selecting ewes for culling and ewes that are a bit behind on condition score. I generally cull about 20-25pc each year.

You have to be ruthless about this, as problem ewes are an expensive item to have on a sheep farm.

Ewes that are slightly thinner than normal need to get access to better grass and others, that may be even too fat, need to be slightly curtailed.

It is extremely important to go through your flock now and assess its general condition as right now, time is on your side and you have a chance to sort things out before the breeding season.

The rams are also due an NCT. I generally keep an eye on them throughout the year and I bring them in for a regular footbath. Ram fertility can generally be visually assessed. Lameness, lack of thrive, a sore brisket or any form of stress or ailment can all limit a ram's fertility. So if you keep them healthy they should be good to go come breeding time.

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Remember the semen that a ram will use during the breeding season is being manufactured now, so keep them happy and healthy and they'll do their job next October.

If you are buying in rams, aim for the five star rams with a high DQI (Data Quality Index), generally above 65pc. A high DQI indicates the accuracy and reliability of the information of the breeder.

A lot of work has gone into this from Sheep Ireland and Teagasc so it is worth your while making use of it. The entire flock will also get their annual dip. I contract in Kevin Sheridan with his mobile dipper which I find is a great job, its efficient and effective and a healthy habit for good flock management.

We cut the winter barley last week and I've just finished sowing the fodder rape on the remaining stubbles.

With this I plan to finish lambs and also winter most of the flock. In fairness to the government, the success of the fodder scheme last year incentivised me to do this and I found it a very cheap and labour free way of feeding sheep for the winter.

I have always felt the biggest challenge for any livestock farmer is to get through the winter as cheaply as possible.

We have to always remember that as much I like to whinge about prices at the factory gate and EID tags etc, it's the costs inside the gate the we, as farmers, are in control of. Control these costs and you would hope the rest will look after itself.

Regarding the lamb price, its holding well and the recent Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha is keeping demand and price where it should be.

However, I was chatting recently to a sheep farmer friend of mine from Australia and he could not believe that we were only getting €100 for lambs here in Ireland, as Down Under lamb is freely making over €200 per head.

He explained to me that the Chinese are gone mad for lamb.

Would it be any harm, I thought to myself, for our Minister for Agriculture to pick up the phone to his Chinese counterpart to inform him that we have equivalent grass based, EID-tagged lambs here in Ireland, that we would happily sell him for €150 per head.

It makes sense to me.

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