John Fagan: Sheep farmers are paying a high price for Brexit dithering

File photo
File photo
John Fagan

John Fagan

The collapse in lamb price is very disheartening for sheep farmers. And in the light of the €100 million Brexit fund for the beef industry it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the same should not be sought for the sheep industry.

I sometimes despair, however, when I hear about these compensation funds. While it is great to think that the farmer is getting a dig out, it's hard not to see the processors rubbing their hands and reducing the price of beef accordingly. They will basically help themselves to the loot, leaving the farmer and taxpayer no better off in the long run.

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The lamb price is about €20-€25 behind on last year and a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that British lamb was being dumped on European markets prior to March 29, the original date on which UK was supposed to leave the EU.

The continued Brexit uncertainty has wreaked havoc on the incomes of sheep farmers, but yet there is hardly a squeak from the farm organisations. Of course, the earlier date for the Ramadan festival and a late Easter helped demand somewhat, but prices are now in free fall.

You have to ask yourself is a sheep industry even wanted in this country?

It is increasingly obvious that sheep farming is viewed as a glorified hobby and, for a lot of people, having a few sheep is combined with another source of income. This, for many, is what makes it viable.

The European taxpayer is very soon, if not already, going to get fed up with forking out large sums of money to bail out a beef and sheep industry producing loads of carbon without being able to stand on its own feet. It's simply not going to continue on that basis.

The news that China is mad for more lamb is good news, I suppose, but who exactly benefits from this?

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A friend of mine, who is a management consultant, could not believe that as sheep farmers we only get paid for 22kg of meat when the animal we sell weighs almost 50kg. Almost 28kg of raw material is not paid for. Where does this go? Certainly, it doesn't all go out in the skip.

Lamb stock

Lamb stock is an extremely valuable product and ingredient which goes all over the world, yet we hear little or nothing about it and its value.

It is also clear that every time there is a spike in demand for lamb, it's due to another Muslim festival.

So, whatever about China, why aren't we dealing with Iran, a country with 80 million inhabitants fond of a lamb chop or two? The agriculture industry has to ask itself does it really want sheepmeat produced in Ireland?

At current prices, the choice appears to be either moving to dairy or sitting it out and hoping that things improve even though lamb prices have been pretty much been stagnant for a decade.

Meanwhile, on the farm, I'm busy tidying up after lambing. May is a great time to get all this done as if you leave it too late it gets left behind as silage and hay take priority.

Grass is in great shape and having dosed, clicked and foot-bathed all my lambs, I am making sure to keep adequate grass in front of them to keep them thriving.

You need to get the nematodirus dose into them now as if you miss out on this they'll suffer severely on thrive.

One thing that I am always glad of is that I invested in good handling facilities. A lot of things go through your head when you are faced with 800 sheep to dag and their lambs to dose, but thankfully having good facilities makes the job a lot easier. You won't last too long at sheep unless you have good facilities to work in and with TAMS grants available there is no excuse for not having a good set up.

When I started farming, lameness was a real bugbear for me. I couldn't get on top of it, but when I built a batch foot bath and used zinc sulphate the problem was solved overnight.

Indo Farming

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