John Fagan: I'm going to have to get more ruthless about culling the older ewes

John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
Amy Whooley from Drinagh and Danielle Burke from Bantry at the annual vintage run at Drimoleague, Co Cork on Easter Sunday. Photo: Denis Boyle
John Fagan

John Fagan

Lambing is now drawing to a close and it was a pretty success-free and easy lambing season for me. It wasn't without it problems, mistakes made, lessons learned, but a walk in the park compared to last year.

The weather makes all the difference with lambing and when you can get away with lambing outside and get to turn out ewes and lambs quickly then sheep farming is a breeze.

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A few things I've noted this year is that I'll have to be a bit more ruthless when it comes to culling older ewes as generally these are the ones that cause the most problems.

You need to keep the flock young and a 20-25pc culling rate is something you need to adhere to.

The devastation of spring 2018 left me with a lot of ewes that picked up mastitis and I had to cull a lot of sheep that probably had a few more years in them. In hindsight, that is what made me hold on to a few more older ewes than I should have.

Mastitis and prolapse are hard to detect in some ewes and I've found that notching a sheep's ear to indicate that she should not be kept in the flock is an effective way of making sure that they don't stay.

With regard to prolapse in ewes, it will definitely happen again so even though the ewe might seem fine she'll give you the same torture next year. You don't need a computer or an electronic tag to tell you this.

A simple notch on her ear will remind you next August or September than she has to go, marking her is a waste of time as it will either wash off or when they are shorn you won't know she had a problem and you end up keeping her.

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Grass tetany

Grass tetany has raised its ugly head with a vengeance this year. I've lost seven ewes with it, and saved two. It's hard to get it in time.

A friend of mine once said that the best diagnosis of grass tetany is a dead animal.

Prevention as always is better than cure and I have scattered high magnesium buckets all over the place and I've been feeding the ewes an '18pc high magnesium nut' I got from McCauley's in Navan.

This takes the pressure off them, but you just never know when they are safe. I've found that the risk of tetany usually subsides by the first week in May, you do nevertheless need to be vigilant.

Over the next month as ewes and lambs finally settle, I'll gather them up and give them their first dose of the year against the 'nematodirus' worm. The Department issued warning that there was a hatch and with the fine weather you can be sure that the lambs will pick this up.

This dose is really important, if you miss this dose the lambs just won't thrive and you'll miss out on the best grass of the year. The lambs will therefore be at a loss for it, as will you.

Also, I'll treat them with some long-acting Clik to prevent flystrike, dag the ewes that are dirty, and kick on with the rest of the year.

It's also really important, now that lambing is over to take a little break, before ploughing into the summer workload.

When I visited my cousins in Argentina a few years ago, one saying that they have down there is that 'the eye of the farmer will fatten the lamb'.

It means that a true farmer will immediately be able to gauge the health of his/her stock by looking at them and working with them and no amount of technology or equipment or staff will beat a farmer who has an eye to his own stock.

EID tagging

The EID tagging and its introduction to my mind has been extremely unfair on sheep farmers and to add insult to injury, it is now becoming apparent that the factories and marts do not have to install this equipment that will be able to read the tags.

So, it serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever, other than to dump a pointless bill on farmers.

I don't mind spending money but I hate wasting it, and that is what EID and its introduction, is to sheep farmers.

It's hard to take Fine Gael seriously on this matter, but it seems the sheep farmer and the sheep industry is well down the pecking order so let's be honest, they don't care and don't want to know about it no matter how daft it gets.

John Fagan farms in Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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