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Monday 18 February 2019

John Fagan: Mild winter has made up for some of the chaos we battled in 2018

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

John Fagan

I don't know which debate is currently more absurd - the climate change debate in Ireland telling people that reducing the intake of Irish agricultural produce is an effective way of saving the planet, or the now farcical Brexit debate, which is detrimental to one's ear drums.

I think people are now fed up listening to it.

I envisage that Brexit will be sorted out at the 11th hour and what we are witnessing at the moment is what politicians are best at,'looking busy'.

The obsession around the climate change debate and Irish farming in the midst of Brexit, homelessness and the obscene cost overruns of the national children's hospital is a classic example of political diversion.

As farmers we need to stand up to what is amounting to a lot of fake news and unbalance in the debate.

Of course, we have to make a lot of changes in how we farm to protect the environment and I am happy to do this.

But with a bit of tweaking we can produce the highest-quality food in the world, to the highest animal-welfare standards in a carbon-neutral, sustainable way.

On my own farm, the winter has been extremely easy and my sheep are the better for it.

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I have been condition scoring them and foot bathing them regularly and they seem in great shape.

The added benefit of the mild winter and later lambing date has meant that I haven't yet housed my ewes.

This has massively reduced my labour and costs compared to other years and I am the better for it as I am lot more relaxed than I was last year in the midst of the chaos of spring 2018.

Scanning went well, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to be worried about, it came in at 1.92 lambs per ewe and as we all know, if I get 1.92 lambs on the ground it will be nothing short of a miracle.

Scanning is useful in that you can identify the ewes with multiple births that need extra care and adjust your feeding regime accordingly, giving them the best chance possible of rearing two lambs.

I will now immediately separate the triplets, doubles and singles.

The singles will stay out, they generally don't need too much extra feeding, but the doubles and triplets will be brought in and I will begin the pre-lambing feeding regime. It is crucial to get this right.

I have always bought the 20pc feed ration from Quinn's in Baltinglass. I have found this does the trick for me as it's important to know the ingredients that you are putting into pregnant ewes.

Remember, you can pretty much never have too much soya. The soya content of your ration must be listed in the top three ingredients on the label of your feed.

If you don't have this, unfortunately, you need to change it.

A feed ration that might be a bit cheaper is a dead loss if your ewes lamb with not enough milk.

It's not a fun place to be with healthy lambs screeching at you, wondering why their mum has no milk.

There are also nuts available with high soya content if you want to feed them outside, but it is so important to focus on the ingredients and get it right.

I would recommend a high-content 20pc soya ration. Introduce this gradually, and be careful never to overfeed ewes - small amounts maybe in the morning and evening are sufficient - and introduce feed gradually.

The grassland situation on the farm couldn't be better. They are ideal conditions for spreading slurry or fertiliser at the moment.

I am still in no rush to spread fertiliser as it is very expensive this year and I will be doing enough spreading later in February. The growth in the part of the country that I live in is a tad later than other parts, so you just have to amend your plans accordingly.

In fact, I might even lightly graze some of the heavier covered paddocks as, given the mild weather, they are getting quite strong and a light grazing might just do them the world of good.

I find that pregnant ewes, especially triplet-bearing ewes, certainly benefit from being able to move about.

On that note: when housing, give them lots of space. They need it.

I will hold off giving the ewes their 10-in-one vaccine until roughly two weeks out from lambing.

Research has shown that to give them their booster too soon before lambing has meant the lambs can often miss the optimum time to absorb the lifesaving antibodies that are available in the first milk from the ewe.

So, I'll be holding this off until about two weeks out from lambing date before I give the ewes their booster shot.

A quick reminder, the census for your flock is due in this week - January 31 is the deadline.

You can also do this online with agfood.ie - but the important thing is, get it in. It's really easy to do.

Also some house-keeping things - make sure you electronically tag any ewe lambs retained for breeding and enter them in your flock register.

My dispatch document book was also getting low, so I ordered another one.

It takes a bit of time for these to come through, so don't leave yourself stuck when you want to sell a few lambs but have no paperwork.

Finally, I still have a little hangover of lambs from last year but thankfully the price is going in the right direction and I hope to have them all cleared out by the end of February.

Not before its time, it's kind of ironic but it's the later lambs that were born last year that are now achieving the highest prices.

It's food for thought - so far, this year, going three weeks later with lambing date is really suiting me.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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