Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

What a difference a year makes as the mating season gets off to a great start

Tom Staunton

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, ewes and rams were sheltering from the rain, fields were flooded and there was a lot less grass to eat.

This year, the mating season has begun well. Rams and ewes are able to enjoy good growing conditions, which has left an abundance of grass on the farm.

The Blackface ewes that were artificially inseminated (AI) have returned to grass and a ram has been introduced to cover the repeats. Seventy ewes were inseminated in total, in two batches of 35. The day of AI ran smoothly and I'm hoping for a small number of repeats.

All the rams that are running with ewes have a raddle mark, which I smear across the ram's chests using a paint brush on a regular basis.

While I am topping up the raddle on the rams, I also give them 1kg of meal with a large amount of oats. I do this to ensure ram lambs stay in good shape and to make sure rams have more energy for searching though ewes. I keep a close eye on rams to check if they are healthy, and to ensure that they are tupping ewes correctly.


Yesterday, I sold 49 Mule wether lambs to Kepak Athleague through the South Mayo Quality Lamb Producer Group (SMQLPG).

This leaves me with less than 100 lambs left for finishing. The lambs that are left are in two different groups. One group is being meal fed and the other group is on good quality grass. Some lambs are scouring, which is not down to 'watery grass' but mainly due to the high levels of protein in grass.

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I hope to have both groups finished by the end of October to allow for more grass for ewes, which will carry them into the new year. This will also allow me to begin closing off fields for spring. It will be interesting to see how the lambs perform.

I had a farm audit last week as part of the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme and I have maintained my quality assured status. I believe this scheme is important for farmers and consumers to ensure the highest standards of practice and production to deliver a good quality end product. The audit was developed over the years, with higher standards required to achieve Bord Bia Quality Assurance status.

But I think it is essential for further development of this scheme that a bonus will be paid for quality assured lamb. A bonus is already available for beef producers and I see no reason why it isn't available for lamb producers.

Farmers that are not Bord Bia quality assured and imported lamb are getting the same price as quality assured members in the factories. This shouldn't be the case. A bonus scheme similar to the beef bonus should be considered to encourage a higher quality standard of production.

I noticed strong demand for STAP eligible rams this year. I think this is very positive for sheep producers. I am part of the Sheep Ireland Lambplus scheme and I record my pedigree flock of Bluefaced Leicesters.

I also have a Bluefaced Leicester hogget ram which took part in the Central Progeny Test (CPT) this year. The ram was at the UCD farm on Lyons estate last week, where fresh semen was used from the ram to inseminate a number of ewes. The ram has now returned home and is running with 50 Scotch Blackface ewes.

Performance recording of sheep is becoming more popular and is following in the footsteps of performance recording in dairy and suckler herds.

Sheep Ireland and performance recorded sheep will be an integral part of the sheep industry in the future.

The STAP scheme is encouraging the use of recorded rams to help improve profit in flocks, which will have a positive effect on our industry.

Tom Staunton runs 350 ewes on the shores of Lough Mask in Shanvallyard, Tourmakeady, Co Mayo. Email:

Irish Independent