Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 March 2018

Our Farm: It's important not to be left with a hangover of lambs

It has been a difficult year to fatten lambs says John Fagan
It has been a difficult year to fatten lambs says John Fagan
John Fagan

John Fagan

The autumn is really setting in now and you can really feel the chill in the air. The final nail in the coffin will be when the clocks go back next week - then it really hits home.

I let the rams out on October 10, meaning that lambing 2017 is due to start around March 5. It's slightly later than normal, but I feel the end of February can be a tricky time of year and maybe going a week later might just make life a little easier.

I sold the last of my cull ewes at the mart and it was great to get land cleared with less mouths to feed about the place. In fact, that's the main focus on the farm at the moment. I still have too many lambs.

It's a reflection of the wet and muggy summer that we just had and lambs did not thrive well at all for me. It's a similar story for a lot of farmers all over the country. It has been a difficult year to fatten lambs.

I took the decision, whether rightly or wrongly, to move the lambs at a lighter weight and, ultimately, a lower price. The same thing happened to me in 2012 when I was reluctant to sell lambs, holding out for the €100, only to left with a massive hangover of lambs into the following spring and a terrible fodder crisis that ensued.

Once bitten twice shy. I think you have to continuously move lambs and some days you win, some days you lose.

The lighter ewe lambs that are fully shorn are doing really well. It is definitely something that I will consider doing each year. The wet and humid weather all summer left them stuck in the same place and since removing the wool from them over a month ago, they have turned inside out.

I expect the majority of them to be gone by Christmas. They are currently grazing on a newly reseeded field with access to ad lib meal.

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It is interesting to notice they are more interested in the fresh reseeded grass than they are in the meal. I am looking to winter my breeding ewe lambs off the farm. It is not something that I normally would do, but it can be of huge benefit to both farmers. Lambs will clean up farms that don't have sheep and clearing them off my farm allows me to close off valuable fields that I need for the spring time.


The contract-reared dairy heifers are being readied for housing. I put down 'Mayo slat mats' on the entire shed to keep them comfortable. They have done well all summer and are all ahead of target in terms of their weight gain. We scanned them recently and the AI and breeding went well.

It is useful for the dairy farmer to have a compact calving date. I'm just glad my heat-detecting work went well last May. So far, so good with this side of the business. It is something I would recommend any sheep farmer to get into as it maximises the use of the grass and puts a few extra euro in your pocket.

Finally, it's the time of year when I get on top of my cross compliance. I am due a Bord Bia inspection and am getting used to using Herdwatch - the new phone app that you use for recording all sorts of cross-compliance events. It's really handy and I look forward to having it all up to date. It will take a load off my mind.

John Fagan farms at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

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