Bri­tish ‘three-tier’ sheep sys­tem could be the way for­ward

Irish Independent - Farming - - OUR FARM - TOM STAUNTON

IT’S the time of year for or­gan­is­ing and shop­ping around.

I am cur­rently pric­ing dif­fer­ent ra­tions for ewe’s pre-lamb­ing. There is a big dif­fer­ence in pric­ing from mill to mill, but also a vari­a­tion in the qual­ity of the prod­ucts in the dif­fer­ent feeds.

I al­ways look for qual­ity in­gre­di­ents in the ra­tions — such as bar­ley, soya bean meal and maize — and I pre­fer feed­ing a ra­tion over a nut.

I feel I can judge the qual­ity of the mix bet­ter by look­ing at a ra­tion.

Hope­fully my silage re­sults will show de­cent lev­els of pro­tein and en- ergy which will al­low me to re­duce the amount of meal I will have to feed pre-lamb­ing.

With the re­cent cold and wet weather con­di­tions I ex­pect that I will have to feed a lit­tle bit ear­lier than usual.

Ground is sat­u­rated and bare and the risk of fluke is high with the wet weather we have ex­pe­ri­enced over the past few months.

The ewes were dosed for fluke ear­lier on and will get an­other dose around Christ­mas time when there is help around.

I haven’t tested for fluke, but from pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence with th­ese weather con­di­tions it po­ten­tially could be a big prob­lem if left un­treated.

Look­ing back at the sheep trade for 2017 there were per­haps more pos­i­tives than neg­a­tives.

The hogget, ewe and ram kill num­bers were up this year. The lamb kill is also up across the coun­try to date by 5pc.

It is pos­i­tive to see num­bers up and also at this stage of the year that price is creep­ing up.

The price of spring lamb was slug­gish to start with, but when the hogget trade dried up lamb prices re­cov­ered and were quite sta­ble all sum­mer.

Store lambs on the other hand started off well in late June but prices and de­mand plum­meted af­ter this.

Many mart re­ports from all over the coun­try saw poor sales for breed­ing sheep.

This was sur­pris­ing given the lamb trade in the fac­to­ries was quite sta­ble.

The spe­cialised and or­gan­ised sheep sales went well through­out the coun- try. Farm­ers in th­ese groups are pro­duc­ing top qual­ity breed­ing stock.

Look­ing for­ward, the talk of Brexit is a big is­sue for the farm­ing com­mu­nity with many un­cer­tain­ties around borders and tar­iffs. It is some­thing that will be dis­cussed for years to come.

One is­sue that I see fac­ing the sheep in­dus­try is the ex­o­dus of young sheep farm­ers or po­ten­tial sheep farm­ers, par­tic­u­larly in hill farm­ing ar­eas.

Most fam­ily farms are not in a po­si­tion to pass on the fam­ily farm to the next gen­er­a­tion un­til they are of pen­sion age.

By then the younger gen­er­a­tion have lost or are los­ing in­ter­est.

Hill farm­ing is fac­ing this head on and we could be watch­ing the last gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers farm­ing the moun­tains and hills.

The panic that oc­curred a few years ago about the need for de-stock­ing on the moun­tains has now gone full circle where hills and moun­tains are un­der-grazed and to the point they are a se­ri­ous haz­ard in the sum­mer as we saw with the many gorse fires this year.

It is not too late to save the tradition of hill farm­ing, but se­ri­ous steps must be taken to pre­serve this way of life and to man­age the moun­tains and hills in a sus­tain­able way.

The Bri­tish ‘three-tier sys­tem’ of farm­ing sheep could po­ten­tially help the whole sheep sec­tor here.

This sys­tem sees hill and up­land ewes mated with ma­ter­nal breeds and the off­spring are sold onto low­land and com­mer­cial farms for pro­duc­ing prime lamb with good car­cass qual­ity

High health sta­tus re­place­ments are bred from the hill flocks which gives the low­land farms a se­lec­tion of ma­ter­nal re­place­ments.

This al­lows the com­mer­cial farms to keep their farm fo­cused on pro­duc­ing fac­tory and or butcher type lambs.

It also can help hill farm­ers by pro­vid­ing them with an al­ter­na­tive mar­ket for their lamb.

This is a sys­tem that has been proven in the UK for hun­dreds of years and has the po­ten­tial to suc­ceed here.

Merry Christ­mas to ev­ery­one and best wishes for 2018.

Tom Staunton farms in Tour­makeady, Co Mayo

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