Sheep Conf & Farm Walk 22nd May

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This year’s IGA sheep conference will take place in the Horse and Jockey hotel in Co Tipperary.  The format will be similar to previous years with an indoor conference in the morning followed by a farm walk in the afternoon. Registration for the conference will commence from 9:30am with the conference starting at 10am and proceedings wrapping up for 5pm.

For the indoor morning session there is an excellent line up of speakers. First up Darren Carty livestock specialist with the Irish Farmers Journal and former IGA council member will look at the sheep industry in depth and the changes that have occurred over the past 10 to 15 years. From this he will outline the gains that have been made and the potential challenges that may lie ahead as the industry moves forward. Following this Kevin McDermott and Eamon Wall, programme managers for Sheep Ireland, will discuss the main milestones achieved over the first ten years of the sheep Ireland programme and reveal what the future may hold for Irish sheep breeding. Wrapping up the morning session will be Mathew Blyth, Flock manager from Didling farms Ltd., based in West Sussex UK. Mathew will discuss the management of the 1000 ewe flock, grazing rotations, use of alternative forages and how incorporating the latest technology has helped him manage and improve their flock performance.

Following lunch the buses will transport the attendees to the farm of John Large for the afternoon session.  This will provide conference delegates an opportunity to see the farming system and hear in more detail how John operates his enterprise.

John LargeFarmer Profile  

John and his family live in Gortnahoe, located just inside the borders of Co Tipperary. The home farm is located on the outskirts of the village and is the base for a busy Sheep and Suckler beef system. The farm also encompasses a further two blocks of ground that add up to an 80ha operation.

Forward thinking

John has always adopted a progressive approach to new initiatives helping drive the sheep industry forward.  John is one of the Central Progeny Test (CPT) flocks working with Sheep Ireland and was one of the original participants in the programme since it began back in 2010. This wasn’t his first venture into helping breed improvement; previously he participated in a number of Teagasc on-farm ram evaluation trials. Aside from breeding initiatives he has embraced the grazing challenge having previously also hosted one of the Grass10 Programme sheep walks.

Away from the farm, John also sits on the board of Sheep Ireland as a farmer representative. In the midst of it all, he also manages to find the time to write for the Farming independent on a monthly basis.

Sheep system

The sheep system makes up the main part of the farming enterprise, running a closed flock which comprises of 630 mature ewes and 160 ewe lambs that are also joined. Stocked at approximately 12 ewes per hectare, with all progeny excluding replacements taken to finish this is a high output system.

As part of the CPT Programme all the mature ewes are artificially inseminated. This process takes place in two phases in mid-October with a two day interval in-between each. In total, four different ram breeds Texel, Suffolk, Charollais and Belclare were used on the flock. Following the round of AI, the ewes are divided into three groups and natural service is used with rams being introduced to cover the repeats.  The replacement ewe lambs on the farm are also joined with the ram which will coincide with the repeats from the AI in the mature ewe flock. A key focus on the farm has been to ensure these lambs are well grown prior to mating aiming to reach a target weight of 48 kg at joining. These ewe lambs are joined for two cycles with all rams on the farm being removed by the start of December, enabling the lambing to be wrapped up by early April. The focus on ensuring ewes reach target has been paying dividends, pregnancy rates for the group this year are 86.5 % with those pregnant carrying on average 1.24 lambs. 

With so many ewes lambing in such a compact period the start of March is a busy time on the farm. Extra staff is drafted in for lambing with Sheep Ireland technicians present during lambing to help record a variety of information on both ewe and lamb performance. All progeny from the AI rams will be tagged and recorded at birth and their performance and health data recorded throughout the season. A selection of female progeny from each of the sires used is retained for breeding enabling the capture of maternal data. This information is recorded in the sheep Ireland database and forms part for the genetic evaluations for the sires used. It also provides an invaluable resource for the industry as it provides much needed on farm commercial data.

Another challenge posed by having such large numbers lambing at one time is the need for sufficient amounts of grass at turnout. John has focused efforts to ensure sufficient ground is rested from October on to have reserves built up for spring. Increasing the amount of divisions on the farm and investments in fencing infrastructure has aided in this process. Achieving high levels of performance of grass is key for this flock, with the high stocking rate good levels of performance are needed to keep hit drafting targets. With three separate farm lets to manage good grassland management skills are key to achieving this. To keep supplies in check in the middle of the grazing season heavy covers are removed as baled silage. This has the added benefit of providing high DMD silage for both the sheep and beef systems on the farm during the winter period.

Focusing on efficiency and performance of the flocks is a key aspect of management, and drafting lambs is no exception.  Once they start to approach finish weights, lambs are assessed and drafted every two weeks with lambs weighted and assessed for fat cover.  John aims for a 20 +kg  U or R3 carcass.  To achieve the desired level of finish John will introduce concentrate supplementation from August. Rather than blanket feeding, all lambs are batched according to weight on the farm with those over 40 kg supplemented. Forage rape is also grown and used to finish a proportion of lambs in October and November.

Beef system

The beef side of the farm is another considerable operation. This is based on a 35 cow autumn calved sucker herd. Replacements for the suckler herd are purchased. To further keep the grazing system and resources streamlined, all bull calves from the herd are sold as weanlings in the spring. The heifers are carried over to the following year and finished off the farm. Good grassland management is central to the beef side in order to achieve performance. This system is operating at 2.4lu per hectare achieving an output of 774 kg per hectare.


Sheep Conference

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This event has been kindly sponsored by MDS Animal Health and Mullinahone Co op.

msdmullinahone co-op





Posted on Wednesday, 11 April 2018  |  By Irish Grassland Association
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