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Monday 21 January 2019

John Fagan: 'Later lambing date reflects the changing times we live in'

This flock of sheep in Ballyellen Co Kilkenny has just been moved to a new grazing strip of fodder rape and volunteer corn. Photo Roger Jones.
This flock of sheep in Ballyellen Co Kilkenny has just been moved to a new grazing strip of fodder rape and volunteer corn. Photo Roger Jones.
John Fagan

John Fagan

I took away the rams at the end of November, meaning my lambing will finish towards the end of April 2019. That's a bit later than normal, but it's a reflection of the changing times we live in.

I hope that by lambing later the workload at lambing will be reduced as well as the costs of production.

It means I won't have lambs for sale sooner in the year, but I am not too perturbed by this as the Muslim festivals which boost lamb price are taking place increasingly earlier in the year, making it more difficult and costly to have lambs ready for them.

Ramadan begins on May 5 and ends on June 4 next year and the Eid festival is on August 12. These are important dates for sheep farmers as they are a big factor in lamb prices.

Normally I would be aiming to house my ewes before Christmas, but this year I think I might leave them out until after scanning.

It has been a relatively easy winter so far, and as I am lambing later I might get away with keeping my ewes out on a forage crop supplemented with haylage until the end of January.

Again, this will make life easy, reduce costs and workload. The margins are now so tight in sheep farming you have to keep costs as low as possible.

I haven't had any issues with fluke as nothing came up in the few culls I killed, but you need to keep an eye on this as each farm is different.

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My lambs are disappearing fast. Seeing them buck-leaping around the fodder rape I sowed is great, and it's something that I will do each year from now on.

They are very easily managed on it and the kill out is great; price could be better, however, and it's a pity that the factories have stalled quotes slightly as they were heading in the right direction.

The sheep census forms are out; they've given us plenty of time to get them in - the census date is December 31. So before you head out to ring in the new year, be sure to round up the flock and count them.

You then have until the end of January to submit your form.

Looking at some bigger issues, 2018 was the year I really accepted that climate change is something that we need to work on collectively as farmers.

I'd be strongly considering off-loading your diesel car, as from what I can see diesel cars will be a thing of the past very shortly.

Air travel doesn't tally with environmentalist awareness so a cycling holiday along the Wild Atlantic Way might be an alternative.

How we heat our homes, and how we are allowed to heat and power our homes needs to be incentivised to be more environmentally friendly.

It is not right that we are blocked from selling excess power onto the grid from solar panels or domestic wind turbines.

They are allowed to do this on the Continent: why not here and why not now?

Rural broadband can reduce emissions by cancelling out unnecessary travel to and from work.

My ambition for 2019 is make my farm as environmentally friendly as possible.

I have no interest in leaving chaos for the next generation, and everybody has a role to play.

I intend to recycle pretty much everything on the farm, and farm in such a way that only contributes positively to the environment.

I am generally pretty good on this anyway, but there is more I can do. I am not going organic, but I am going to steal some ideas from the organic farmers, who have a lot to teach us.

Bees

Firstly, I have bees coming in April/ May and they are going to benefit a lot from my 'wild bird cover', which will contain some wild meadow mixes.

I've been busy planting hedges and trees, something which I do each year.

It's kind of ironic: my father spent his life taking out hedges and I'm spending mine putting them back in.

They have huge benefits to farms both from an environmental point of view and for providing livestock with shade and shelter when needed.

These are small things, but I actually enjoy doing them.

We shouldn't need financial incentives to farm green and clean, but they could help! Perhaps a better funded GLAS scheme is now an inevitability?

Finally, I would like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year.

I might have come across a bit cranky at times during the year, but farmers have to stand up for themselves - otherwise all too often they can get walked over or bullied, and to me that is not acceptable. Onwards and upwards for 2019.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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