John Fagan: We're a far cry from the days when a pen of lambs could buy you a motor!

John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
John Fagan on his farm in Gartlandstown, Co. Westmeath.
Photo Brian Farrell
John Fagan

John Fagan

"When I started farming I sold seven lambs and bought a good second-hand Mini Cooper, took the girlfriend out to the pictures and the rest is history," commented a friend of mine as we waited in the queue to wash our trailers after dropping off lambs to ICM in Navan.

He was lamenting the fact that 40 years later, seven lambs would net him just enough to buy his annual allotment of electronic tags he needed to get his lambs to the market place.

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How times have changed. That's the reality of farming the world over. The farmer produces the raw material, the margins continually get tighter, industrialists and retailers get richer.

With the Rugby World Cup being played in Japan, I thought that sales of Irish lamb to the Land of the Rising Sun would eventually yield a better price for Irish sheep farmers.

Not so, it seems. Access to the Japanese market some months ago was announced in a fanfare of hype by the powers that be, but the benefit to the farmers who produce the actual product has been slow to come through.

This must change if we want to keep a sheep industry in Ireland. The breeding for mid-season lambing production is just around the corner, and sheep farmers have to ask themselves, as they get older, is it actually worth investing their time, money and effort in producing a product which is barely profitable?

The lambs are thriving well and I am drafting them as they come fit.

There has been an abundance of grass on the farm this year; 2019 has been relatively kind to farmers who depend on grass to make a buck.

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It's important as lambs come fit to keep them moving. It's amazing how quickly lighter lambs thrive when larger lambs are removed.

I have always found that no matter how hard you try, lambs - especially ewe lambs - born in late spring generally take until the end of September to start coming on line.

I heard one top chef comment that autumn lamb is often the tastiest, given the marbled fat on the meat due to the purely grass-based diet it is fattened on.

In preparation for the breeding season I dosed my breeding ewes with a selenium, iodine and zinc bolus. There is a number of companies that sell these boluses, such as Animax and Mayo Health; both do a good job.

The bolus lasts in their system for six months, and is the option I chose in order to qualify for the sheep welfare scheme.

I continuously condition score my sheep in the run-in to the breeding season, with thinner ewes getting access to better grass and larger ladies going to fat camp.

Also, while I had the ewes in the yard I checked all their tags, making sure they had two, and ordering replacements for ones that had lost one. It's a good time of year to do this, as with the cooler weather you have less chance of flies pestering a ewe with a new tag or replacement tag.


I purchased some Belclare rams recently, and I always make sure to send the movement notification off to the my local DVO straight away. Again, this is an area of cross-compliance that can trip people up if they get an inspection.

With a farm-to-farm movement you are obliged to notify the Department yourself, so don't leave something like this too late or else you could get in a bit of hot water.

While this has been a good year for grass, as the evenings get shorter you can see grass evaporating quickly. Winter is coming and it's vital that you earmark fields for closing off to ensure you have adequate grass next spring for lambing.

I gradually close off the farm with the aim of having 80-100pc closed by December, with the fields earmarked for lambing shut off by mid-October.

The fodder rape I sowed after the winter barley has turned a corner; it's not spectacular, but it will keep the sheep out for a lot longer, and help fatten a few straggling lambs.

I hope to have most of the lambs gone by the end of November but inevitably there will be a few knocking around at Christmas.

Be sure to keep your rams fit and healthy and it's no harm to give them a few nuts - they've a rough few weeks ahead of them.

Indo Farming

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