Some timely rainfall has seen sheep farmers in Donegal escape the worst of the drought


Grass growth has been
Grass growth has been "reasonably good" on Michael Duffy's farm in Kerrykeel, Co Donegal

John Cannon

This report is the latest update from Michael Duffy's sheep farm in Kerrykeel, 23 miles north of Letterkenny on the Fanad Peninsula in Donegal.

In contrast with the south and east of Ireland, Michael Duffy, along with most other farmers in the northwest corner of Ireland, has enjoyed an excellent three months of farming since mid-May.

This is in sharp contrast with the conditions experienced in 2017 and in many previous years when rain and poor ground conditions were the norm.

While drought conditions were beginning to threaten some farms about a month ago, 30mm of rain over a few days about three weeks ago and small amount of rain since has eliminated any soil moisture deficit on all but a handful of farms that are on very sandy soils.

Flock Update

Michael said he did "run a bit tight for grass in July" but he was never short of grass.

On July 1 he began weaning his flock when his lambs were about 14 weeks.

He sheared the wool off his ewes and the sucked hoggets then and separated them into three groups according to body condition scores (BCS) as follows: thin (30pc), medium (50pc) and fat (20pc).

"I was very happy with the flock average BCS, and any cull ewes that were in good condition were sent to the abattoir," said Michael.

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"I had a good grass supply so my thin ewes were given top-quality grass to help them get back to a target 'condition score' of 3.5 at mating. I will not starve or restrict any of the medium or fat ewes as I know from past experience that it is crucial to have them in top condition going to the ram in October."

At present Michael has 50pc of his lambs on ad-lib creep.

These are getting a cobalt dose every 12-14 days and Michael is "very happy" with their performance to date.

The remaining 50pc (that were on a grass-only regime until weaning) are now on 0.5kg meal (in troughs) since weaning plus cobalt every two weeks. Michael has slaughtered 180 lambs to date since May (approx. 33pc).

He has 65 ewe lambs selected for replacements, which leaves 485 lambs. Michael said: "I have a lot of forward lambs that will be killed in August, which is a complete contrast to previous years."

Grassland Update

Michael described the grass growth to date as "patchy but reasonably good". He elaborated further saying that "growth came in spurts which left management difficult and quality mixed".

He described his fertiliser use to date as "normal". At the moment he has a surplus of grass, and with his own lambs performing so well he bought some store lambs last week.

He has 350 purchased and on the farm.

He has concentrated on buying direct from the farm of origin this year to minimise the disease risk.

He also said that "based on grass growth to date this year I will increase my ewe numbers for 2019 by about 10pc". Michael has taken advantage of the good weather and sub-soiled some 10 acres of ground.

He also decided to replace/improve the drainage in a wet corner of on field. He has spread 40 tonnes of ground limestone in 2018 and will spread another 40 later if ground conditions hold up.

Silage and Winter Fodder

Michael said he has "about 125pc of my winter feed requirement at present".

"I took my first cut on May 29," he said.

"Bulk was slightly back on 2017 but the quality should be excellent. I got slurry out immediately and the grass had greened up about 10 days later - before the dry weather came.

"Since then I have made 140 round bales of silage and 20 bales of hay."

About 50 bales of silage are from a planned second cut with remaining silage and hay being taken from grazing paddocks that were surplus to stock requirements.

Parasite Control

In my last report I mentioned that Orf and Scald were issues.

The Orf-M appears to have worked on the Orf and regular foot bathing is keeping Scald at bay.

Michael has given three worm drenches to lambs to date.

A Benzimidazole/ 'white wormer' in May for Nematodirus was followed in June with a Levamisole / 'yellow wormer' drench and a Macrocyclic lactone / 'clear wormer' in July (Ivermectin).

Due to the dry weather up to now worms have not been a major issue. This is likely to change quite rapidly now given the rainfall over the past two week period.

Future Plans

Michael will focus his attention on grassland management from now until mating.

He will want to keep his own lambs performing, get the purchased lambs settled in and gaining weight and on getting all his ewes to a BCS of 3.5 at mating.

In addition he hopes to purchase 35 replacement ewe lambs (1/4 Belclare). He will buy from the same farmer that he used in 2016 and 2017.

He plans to have 350 ewes and 100 ewe lambs 'going to the ram' this year.

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

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