The outlook on stores for next spring appears good

All ewes will be housed before Christmas.
All ewes will be housed before Christmas.
John Large

John Large

Now that another year is almost finished it is time to have a look back and see how we performed throughout the year. Everyone knows what a good year it was for grass-growth and utilisation. But, I also remember last March and April when we fed meal to most of the lambed ewes outside. We fed them for two reasons. Firstly, grass was a bit slow to start growing due to the late application of nitrogen. Secondly, a bit of meal gives the ewes more energy to produce milk for her lambs. Plenty of milk gives the lambs a great start in the first few weeks. I will feed all twin ewes again for the first three weeks after lambing next year.

From mid-April onwards it was just a matter of eating out paddocks well and taking out those gone too strong for silage. Weaning weight was nothing exceptional, about 30kg, but the thrive after weaning was excellent with lambs coming fit quickly and to good weight. We only sold one load under 20kg and had about 85pc sold by the end of November. None of these lambs got meal. We are feeding the last lot 0.5kg of meal per day. These are on fodder-rape, and most of them should come fit in January.

I would have liked to get a better price but one has to be realistic and get as much as you can when the lambs are fit for sale. I would agree with Tom Staunton when he says the base quote was well below the price being paid all year so everybody had to bargain for more money and get paid to extra weight. The surprise for me was the sheer number of lambs being killed each week. Not once this year did I hear of anyone being told to hold lambs back for a week. That tells us that the market is there for what we produce.

The outlook for next spring looks good, and those who bought stores should get a good return for their work and investment.

Two years ago I asked if it was possible to achieve the 10pc target set out in Food Harvest 2020. Now I think we can by factory and farmer working together. What we need is some type of contract system for early lambs to get a proportion of farmers to lamb in January and early February. With most of our lambs born in March and April, I'm concerned that a late spring could see a lot of our lambs arrive on the market at the same time as high volumes of British lamb. This could have a big effect on price and push the sheep industry back into a cycle of declining ewe numbers.

We need every ewe we have to produce enough lamb for the factories so that they can compete for big contracts. The factories can now sell more lamb that has been cut-up and pre-packed, while the farmers can produce a mostly grass-fed product to a consistently high-spec. On this basis, we can move forward together.

Half of the ewes were housed this week. After the wet weekend they had very little grass left and I was not going into any fields that were closed since late October. The earliest lambing ewes are being fed hay ad-lib. The rest of the ewes are divided into two lots, one on fodder-beet tops and the others are on rented grass. These will be housed before Christmas. Any ewes that were raddled by the rams will be picked off and left outside until late January. The rest of the ewes will be scanned in late December.

As this is my last article for 2014 I wish all Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

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John Large is a sheep farmer from Tipperary


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