Breeding, Feeding and Grassland Management Key to Sheep Production
21 February 2008
A leading New Zealand sheep expert is currently in Ireland outlining new technologies that could help Irish producers reduce their costs and improve the profitability of their sheep farming enterprises.
Jon Hickford, associate professor at Lincoln University, Christchurch in New Zealand, is addressing the Teagasc national sheep conferences. He will speak to Irish farmers in Athlone, County Westmeath, this evening, Thursday, 21 February 2008. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mary Coughlan TD, will officially open the conference.
At the first of the sheep conferences in Kilkenny on Tuesday of this week, Professor Hickford told Irish producers: "I want to show you how to save money. In New Zealand we use gene marker technology to improve breeding accuracy and efficiency. We work on private commercial farms with sheep breeders using gene marker tests for diseases such as foot rot and scrapie. Currently, we are also looking at genes for longevity in sheep and lamb survivability."
The national sheep flock in New Zealand is declining and now stands at 37 million ewes. Beef and sheep farms in New Zealand are larger than in Ireland averaging at 368 hectares, but generate only an average profit of approximately €28,000. Increasingly, beef and sheep farms in New Zealand are being supported by off-farm income.
Michael McHugh, head of Teagasc sheep advisory programme, said: "We can learn a lot from New Zealand technology. Breeding, nutrition and grassland management can be improved on sheep farms. To assist producers, Teagasc has reorganised its advisory service with dedicated sheep advisers in each Area Unit. He urged farmers to join a discussion group and get involved in sharing information."
Part of the Teagasc sheep research programme involves working on commercial farms. Dr Seamus Hanrahan, head of sheep research in Teagasc said: "Improved grassland management on sheep farms can reduce the need for concentrate creep feed. The quantity of concentrates being used is increasing and farmers need to look at this. Teagasc National Farm Survey shows that the quantities of feed used on sheep farms increased by 40 per cent over the ten years to 2005 and stands at 74.5 kilograms per ewe."
He pointed out that the number of lambs reared per ewe is the most important measure of flock performance and the National Farm Survey results show that an average 1.28 lambs are reared per ewe. He said: "Only 15 per cent of the flocks in the country are rearing 1.5 lambs per ewe or better. Ewes sired by Belclare rams rear significantly more lambs."