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Tuesday 11 December 2018

John Fagan: Sheep welfare scheme has delivered on health costs

John Fagan has been monitoring his ewes.
John Fagan has been monitoring his ewes.
Michael Ryan's daughters Sally (7), Alice (6), Jane (9) and friend Ava Cuffe, at the Green Acres event on Michael Ryan's farm near Ballymore, Co Westmeath. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
John Fagan

John Fagan

I am letting out all the rams this week, and so begins the countdown to lambing 2018.

Letting the rams out this week means that lambing should kick off around March 5. The flock are in good shape and condition scoring them and managing them post weaning has gone fairly well.

I took a faecal sample from the lighter bunch of ewes in early September and it transpired that they had quite a heavy worm burden so I dosed them with an ivermectin dose. This has significantly improved their condition.

I also took the opportunity to shear the entire flock again. Shearing them now, some farmers have told me, does them a world of good going into the winter. It also means that I should be able to fit more in the sheds and have less dagging and handling next spring.

The plan now is to shear later next year and maybe just cover them with Clik early in the summer to cover against flystrike.

As the winter approaches I am gradually closing off the farm to preserve the grass for next spring. I aim to have close to 80pc of the farm closed off by mid-December and doing this will make life easier for everyone next spring.

Grass will be available for ewes and lambs as well as the yearling dairy calves that I have here on a contract rearing arrangement.

Getting stock out early is cheaper and more beneficial for everyone.

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All of this year's lambs will be gone by the end of the month. This is a record clearance for me and it's because I didn't lamb the ewe lambs.

It also goes back to my point about how much better off are we by lambing ewe lambs?

This year, as a result of not lambing ewe lambs, I have the farm closed up much earlier than normal and the hogget ewes that I kept from last year are much stronger and therefore they have in one way cost me less.

I have no extra costs as a result of finishing lambs on meal in December/January which is normally the case, and in other ways there is less labour involved.

Also I am looking forward to having the lambing over in a shorter period.

I dread the lambing season dragging on for weeks on end. Four weeks is enough.

Sheep welfare scheme

I've been thinking about the sheep welfare scheme. Like every sheep farmer I am looking forward to getting paid. I just hope that there is no big computer system glitch that stalls payment.

I admit that I had concerns that the scheme would mean a cut in lamb prices.

This hasn't happened and the scheme has given me the confidence to invest in a more structured approach to flock health.

The costs of vaccination programmes for abortion prevention or foot rot can initially stall the willingness of the farmer to spend the money, but the welfare scheme, as far as I can see, goes a long way to covering the health costs of managing the flock. It all helps.

To give credit where credit is due, fair play to the farm bodies for getting it for farmers and thanks to the taxpayer for funding it.

The Ploughing Championships were good fun. I was there on the Tuesday. We held a talk on Brexit at lunch time that day in the Farming Independent stand and the overall impression was that we will weather the storm come what may.

One thought that has struck me somewhat on farm business is that there is scope in every corner of the country to diversify away from simply producing food.

There is huge potential for farmers to develop a sideline business. For example, Airbnb is opening up big opportunities.

It's worth considering. I am not saying that we should suddenly drop tools and build a B&B or self-accommodating holiday homes.

What I am saying is that Brexit means we will have to be dynamic. We expect Bord Bia to develop and find new markets for our produce - that's fine.

But we also need to be proactive too and think outside the box.

One thing that I learnt from hosting RTE's Big Week on the Farm was that the appetite of non- farming folk to know more about rural life is immense.

John Fagan farms in Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath.


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