John Fagan: Sheep farmers are exiting the sector in their droves and who can blame them with prices on the floor
Fair play to the ICSA and Sean McNamara for standing up for sheep farmers and resisting the price drop. It's about time farmers started to stand up for themselves, and the recent protest at the Kepak plant in Athleague can only be deemed a success.
Myself and my sheep dog Ted, headed down to show some solidarity with our fellow sheep farmers. Ted felt his job was also on the line and thoroughly enjoyed being there. He'll be back if he has to.
There was a good atmosphere and while some farmers who didn't know about the protest were certainly inconvenienced by it, there was always the friendly toot on the horn and a cheer as they passed by the blockade after making the turn. It's not easy to go down the route of protest.
Many of us would rather be elsewhere, with hay to make, matches to watch and good weather to enjoy no one wants the stress and hassle of standing in front of a factory gate looking miserable shouting 'down with this sort of thing'.
Meat Industry Ireland were quick to jump to the factories cause stating that these disruptions of supply were damaging to the industry.
I tried to think of a word to describe their comments and the word 'narcissistic' came to mind. A narcissistic person only thinks of themselves and only see things from their own perspective. Narcissistic relationships don't last too long and usually end in disaster; and the sheep farmer-factory relationship could be on a similar path unless the processors pay us a realistic price for our produce.
A short-term disruption in order to make this point to factories might assist in the long-term survival of the industry.
Meat industry Ireland should take that on board as well as the fact that the national sheep flock has dropped 4pc since last year and nearly 600 sheep farmers have exited the business, not to mention the fact that sheep farmer incomes are on a par with the dole.
As the summer has finally arrived, I got my hay made, and I've more fodder than I know what to do with. It's great, in one way, a pain in the neck in others, but it will get eaten nonetheless and it's great to have it in.
I am about to wean shortly, I left it a little bit later this year as I lambed later and also the sheep are in super condition and demolishing fields of grass that I got over run with.
Being able to tighten them into fields to clear them out is great. It also means that you don't need to top as much.
Topping is actually a waste of money and a waste of grass but sometimes necessary when you don't have the stock or the fencing to tighten up grazing.
Sometimes it is better to just mow a field and make some more bales of silage or hay than to top. It's up you, but you need to keep the grass leafy for sheep and for cattle as all the nutrients are in the leaf. The stem isn't much use.
As soon as I wean I'll separate the lambs based on weight and gender. Rams closest to being fit will get access to meal ad lib and I find that this gets them moving in terms of weight gain and helps finish them.
The lighter ram lambs will not get access to meal, I just keep an eye on their weights until they are close to being fit and then I give them access to meal.
Ewe lambs again are separated on weight, but generally speaking I have found that ewe lambs don't start to appear until mid-September. So, I just keep them tipping along with access to after grass.
The ewes are shorn, we got it done in one big day and yet again I've stored the wool up. The wool price is poor and it can fluctuate in price. For what I would get for it, I think it is worth holding onto it until prices improve.
If you decide to do this, make sure you store it well in a dry place. I have a loft over some stables which is ideal and perfectly dry. Some day it will be worth something.
John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath
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