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STAP event made me rethink cull ewe plan


John Fagan has been monitoring his ewes.

John Fagan has been monitoring his ewes.

John Fagan has been monitoring his ewes.

September is generally a busy month for me, but getting through jobs before the onset of winter has been fairly straight forward with the fine weather.

I expect to have about 80pc of my lambs drafted by the end of the month, which will extend the grazing season for my ewes. I intend to the let the rams out on October 5, so I have been going through the ewes regularly over the last month monitoring their body condition score (BCS).

The majority of the flock is at a BCS of 3-3.5. Any ewes that are less than this are being culled. There aren't too many, but if they haven't improved at this stage of the year I reckon they are not going to do much better as the year progresses, and often end up being problem cases.

I have shorn my replacement ewe lambs. They weighed in at 42-45kg and should be well fit to go to the ram in November.

By shearing them I find that they tend to thrive even better. It also prevents them from going on their backs next spring.

I also bought in some Easy-Care crossbred ewe lambs to give them a try. The benefits of Easy-Care sheep are very appealing in terms of their ease of lambing, hardiness and good mothering abilities. These are all traits that will reduce variable costs, which is the only hope we have of increasing the profitability of sheep farming.

I headed over to Athenry for my last discussion group event as part of my STAP. It was my first time to Athenry and I found it very impressive.

I liked the format of the day in that it got through the main points quickly and efficiently. An interesting point that was made in relation to culling sheep is that we often can be a bit hasty when it comes to culling ewes.

For example, ewes that show up barren at scanning are more often worth keeping as the chances are that they won't be barren again. It's something that I'm going to focus on next year as I would generally cull barren ewes on the assumption that they would be barren for life.

The grass situation on the farm is fine. At this time of year I like to build up a bank of grass for the winter and address any soil fertility issues. I tested six fields earlier in the summer that I suspected weren't performing as well as they should be. Five of the six came up with a lime deficit that hadn't shown up two years ago when I last tested them.

These particular fields are really important to me in spring, so I am glad that I re-tested them as they need to be performing at their best early in the year.

Liming ground and dealing with soil fertility is money well spent. The alternative is that you are supplementing your stock with expensive bought-in feed. I reckon you lose on the double if you become more reliant on concentrates, since not only is grass far cheaper, but it is more beneficial to the animal.

Earlier in the summer I entered the FBD young farmer of the year award for my local Macra here in Westmeath. I initially thought that I was too old for it but I just about got over the line.

I found the whole experience really beneficial as it challenged me to front up to hard questions about what I am doing with my farm, my business decisions and the overall profitability and sustainability of what the farm is producing.

It also brings you into contact with other young farmers throughout the country and you soon find out that we all have a lot in common. I managed to get into the last six of the finalists.

I was ploughing a lonely furrow as the only sheep farmer amongst four dairy farmers and a tillage man. In the end Sean O'Donnell, a dairy farmer from Mayo proved the worthy winner.

Looking back on it I would recommend every young farmer out there to enter this competition. I wasn't the only one who found it really helpful, with every body involved going home more motivated and focused on what they wanted to achieve. It is a credit to Macra and FBD that they continue to organise and support this competition.

John Fagan is a sheep and beef farmer at Gartlandstown, Co Westmeath

Indo Farming