Price collapse a big cloud on horizon for this Donegal sheep farmer

Donegal sheep farmer Michael Duffy had a successful lambing season in ideal weather but the current slump means lamb prices are down 20pc on this time last year

Michael Duffy is pictured discussing pet lamb performance with Luke Clogher, Teagasc Walsh Fellow Trainee Advisor (left).
Michael Duffy is pictured discussing pet lamb performance with Luke Clogher, Teagasc Walsh Fellow Trainee Advisor (left).

John Cannon

The news from the Duffy farm in Donegal continues to be good. While there was the normal 'ups and downs' of farming life during the spring, lambing went well and the weather has been excellent.

The one big cloud is the collapse in the price of spring lamb. It is well below the corresponding time in recent years - at least 20pc down on this time last year.

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Flock Update

In April Michael outlined that he had scanned 777 lambs, had a target of keeping lamb mortality to 10pc and have 700 live lambs on the ground.

When I spoke to Michael on May 24 he had 699 live lambs on the ground.

He said that "while lamb mortality was 86 I ended up with 8 more lambs than scanned at 785 which gives me 699 lambs at the last stock count on May 4th". Lamb mortality was therefore 11pc. Ewe mortality ended up at 9 ewes.

According to Michael "the vast majority of the trouble came from the triplet ewes and a higher proportion again came from 24 triplet ewes that he picked out about 10 days before lambing started for special attention. These were losing more weight than I was happy with and would probably have been more comfortable in a straw bedded pen instead of being on slats".

On a positive note Michael had no major issues with his ewe lambs. As planned in April he did not turnout any ewe lamb with twins. He removed one lamb and after fostering etc.

Another positive is that Michael mated 25 of the 27 ewes that were barren at scanning.

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These were re-scanned recently and showed up with 35 lambs (14 doubles, 7 singles and 4 empty). These will lamb in June and should add another 30 odd lambs to the lamb pool.

These ewes are all being grazed at present.

Pet Lambs

Michael currently has 132 lambs being artificially reared indoors. He outlined that 65 of the oldest of these were weaned off milk replacer on May 8 and are on lamb pellets and a little hay. He weaned them at 6 weeks from their mean lambing date of March 29.

At weaning they were consuming less than 250 grams per day but are now consuming 1kg per day and while it took about three days for them to settle post weaning they have performed well since. He could not reduce the milk temperature as advised pre-weaning as he had young lambs being fed also.

The remaining 67 lambs will be weaned in about two weeks.

While the older 65 lambs had no issues, the younger batch had digestive scour issues that included bloat and scour. This has taken up quite a bit of his time and reduced their performance. Michael does not plan to turn these lambs out to grass but to finish them on meal out of the shed.

Parasite and Disease Control

Scald in lambs is the biggest issue in the flock at present. All lambs have been through the Zinc Sulphate footbath twice to date with some lambs being spot treated also. The lambs have received a white (Benzimidazole) dose for Nematodirus and were given a Clostridial vaccine at six to seven weeks.

They will get the second Clostridial vaccine at 11 weeks. The next worm dose will be a 'clear' (Avermectin type) product in mid-June but the timing could be earlier if there is evidence of a worm burden (faecal egg count, scouring etc).

Michael is planning to begin weaning from late June on. He does not give an Orf vaccine to ewes or lambs. Any odd lambs that develop Orf are treated using Orf-M.

Weather & Grassland

The weather since lambing has been very good with a few bad spells of short duration.

This has resulted in very good grass growth and grass utilisation. "In addition to the 18 acres that I normally close for first cut silage I have an additional 11 acres closed and I am still struggling to manage the grazing," said Michael.

"I have all of the home block closed for silage and the ewes and lambs in six grazing groups. I have four acres of silage sold as I expect to have all my winter requirements met by the end of May. This silage ground received three bags of 18.6.12 (150kg.) and 1 x 50kg. bag of CAN per acre I will apply slurry after cutting".

Michael has just one blanket fertiliser application on his grazing land to date and has just started a second application on some fields last week (1 bag of 50:50 18.6.12 and CAN per acre). Over the last week growth has slowed and flock demand is increasing.

Creep Feeding

Because of the high grass covers in April Michael did not creep feed as many lambs as planned. He is currently creep feeding 200 of his earlier born lambs. Post weaning he will continue creep feeding those 200 (possibly in troughs) but grass supply (aftergrass) and lamb performance will dictate on the creep feeding of other lamb groups.


Michael sold the majority of his 300 remaining store hoggets in April and all were sold by early May thus avoiding the disastrous price collapse.

Lessons for 2020

He will open his silage pit earlier and have it cleared to accommodate ewes pre lambing. He could put some triplet ewes on bedding here during the last 3 weeks of pregnancy.

John Cannon is a Teagasc advisor based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal


Farm facts

Michael Duffy farms at Kerrykeel on the Fanad Peninsula, 23 miles north of Letterkenny.

His operation consists of 419 ewes/ewe lambs mated and over 1000 store lambs purchased.

He has a target weaning percentage of 1.8 lambs per ewe and 1.0 lamb per ewe lamb mated.

His aim is to keep lamb mortality at less than 10pc and have 700 lambs for sale. He targets ewe body condition scores (BCS) from weaning with the aim of having a ewe BCS of 3.5 at mating and 3.0 at lambing.

In recent years, he feeds some meal from housing to prevent any loss of ewes BCS.

In November 2018 Michael invested in a second hand diet feeder so all the ewes are now fed consistent total mixed ration (TMR) of silage and meals.

Michael Duffy is pictured discussing pet lamb performance with Luke Clogher, Teagasc Walsh Fellow Trainee Advisor (left).

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