John Fagan: This year's summer is shaping up ominously like the washout of 2012

John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
Ann Bond of Macroom with Molly the sheep at the Cork Summer Show in Munster Agricultural Showgrounds at Curraheen, Cork. Photo: Clare Keogh
John Fagan

John Fagan

I was hoping for the usual 'Leaving Cert weather' so I could make mountains of silage and haylage, but I expect the exam results will be better this year as most students would have remained inside as there was no temptation to leg it outside given the weather we have been having.

I got silage made, albeit a bit damper than usual, but made nevertheless. The weather reminds me a lot of 2012 when we had a great spring, only to be drenched for the whole summer.

The better weather never came in 2012 and farmers all over the country got caught badly with low quality silage, a poor availability of aftergrass and ultimately stock didn't do well.

This contributed to the fodder crisis in 2013 so with this in mind, I took the chance to cut silage rather than run the risk of sward quality deteriorating.

You are better to cut your silage while the grass is still good and leafy and with little or no stem.

Stemmy grass is not much better in quality than feeding straw so you have to act sometimes regardless of the weather. Even a day's delay can be very costly and significantly diminish the quality of the forage you are trying to save.

Lambs are thriving well and I expect to start drafting them towards the end of the month.

As I lambed later this year I don't expect to start selling lambs until mid to late July.

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I am happy with how they are doing and I just need them to keep the grass situation on the farm under control. I haven't weighed any yet as my scales is off being serviced.

I noticed last year that it was taking a long time to give the weights of lambs and I thought it might be a good idea to get the screen and load bars checked out. You need to have things like this right.

I hear a lot of complaints from factories about over-weight lambs. My opinion on that is that it is just a stick to beat farmers with, but nevertheless there is not much point in giving the factories free meat.

I imagine that on the majority of sheep farms labour is scarce and having the ability to regularly weigh lambs and bring them to the factory is quite challenging for many and is a job that might just be done once a month.

Most sheep farmers are either elderly or are part-time, and are not poised and ready to roll with the lambs as soon as they come fit.

I dosed and foot-bathed the lambs again last week. Keeping on top of lameness is essential and my zinc sulphate foot-bath is probably the most important piece of infrastructure on the farm.

I was talking to a farmer recently whose lambs are crippled with lameness and it turned out that he hadn't foot-bathed them at all this year. This is why he has a problem.

Lameness is one of the easiest things to control in sheep if you just have a system set up in order to control it.

I aim to foot-bathe the entire flock at least once a month and the way I have my handling facilities set up means that the sheep flow in and through the foot-bath automatically. It's no big deal.

There's no need to tediously turn over every sheep in the place, treating each hoof.

If you foot-bathe regularly and correctly you will have minimum problems and massively improve the productivity of your flock.

I also gave the lambs cobalt. Cobalt deficiency is a common condition in sheep and can be identified by crusty sun-burnt ears on lambs.

Over the coming weeks I hope to get shearing done. I have to check the flock regularly for ewes getting stuck on their backs which is a sure sign that their fleeces are getting itchy and they are probably getting too fat so a trip to the hair dressers is soon needed.

Electronic tagging

We haven't had the overwhelming heat that we had last year and there is no major pressure on them just yet, but I'll soon be in touch with the shearers.

Electronic tagging is in. I thought we were all so up in arms over it that sheep farmers would be chained to the gates of Dáil Eireann protesting, but as most sheep farmers are a passive lot it seems we have to put up and shut up.

That said, I hope I am proven wrong and that electronic tagging, as predicted by the authorities, does indeed bring about better prices for farmers.

The news that Japan is willing to take Irish lambs is great, but we need to see prices holding if not vastly improving.

The fact that average sheep farming incomes are on a par with unemployment benefit indicates that things can only get better.

Not too many young farmers are going to be inspired by these low returns, while their buddies in dairy farming go from strength to strength.

Better prices are needed if there is to be any type of commercial sheep farming in Ireland, otherwise the industry is going to be quickly reduced to hobby farming.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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