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An update from Brian Keane’s BETTER Sheep Farm

An update from Brian Keane’s BETTER Sheep Farm

Michael Gottstein, Head of Sheep KT Programme at Teagasc, talks you through the happenings on Brian Keane’s BETTER Sheep Farm in Co. Wexford, highlighting the challenges that have occurred on the farm this spring.

Brian and Blathnáid Keane farm 96ha in conjunction with Brian’s father John, brother Eoin and son baby Sean. The farm is situated in Davidstown, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, and contains a sheep, cattle and tillage enterprise, along with approximately 5ha of commercial forestry and a further 10ha of land taken up by disused quarries, groves, rivers, streams and lanes.

A difficult year

It has been a very difficult year both personally and from a farming point of view. Brain’s uncle Aidan, who was an active member of the farming operation on the Keane farm, lost his battle with cancer after Christmas. May he rest in peace.


The sheep flock consist of approximately 190 ewes, which are predominately Suffolk, Belclare crosses. The flock was hit with a haemonchus contortus or Barbers Pole worm infection during the summer of 2023. This resulted in a significant number of thin ewes at mating time. Despite Brian’s best efforts, a significant proportion of the flock has lambed down in suboptimal body condition. This will have a knock on effect on lamb performance.  

Lambing this year has been complicated due to adverse weather, resulting in lambs having to be kept indoors longer. A number of lambs presenting with joint ill which has been successfully controlled using antibiotics as per veterinary advice. In addition to joint ill, a number of lambs were lost in early April during the very windy and wet weather. Two lambs were submitted to the Regional Vet Lab to ascertain if the issue was an infections such as clostridial disease etc. Results back to date suggest there was no disease at play and it may simply have been down to bad weather and exposure.

Lambs on Brian Keanes farm

Grazing and silage

Despite good over winter growth, poor utilisation due to the very wet conditions and the inability to get out fertiliser early this spring means that the Keane farm is tight for grass. At this, stage fertiliser has been applied across the farms and some ground has been closed up for silage. Hopefully the settled spell with continue and the sight of lambs skipping around the fields and enjoying the sunshine will become more common - a pleasure for both man and beast.


Approximately half (40ha) of productive farmland is dedicated to tillage. A bad back end to 2023 and poor soil conditions has resulted in in no winter crops being sown. And, as a result, only spring barley will be sown this year. This is in contrast to previous years, where a mix of barley, oats, wheat and beans would have been grown.

In a ‘normal’ year, the aim would be to sow forage rape into the stubble of early harvested cereal crops. This forage rape is normally fed to ewes pre housing and finishing lambs. Given the lateness of spring crop establishments, it is unlikely that an early harvest will be taking place in 2024. Consequently, it is highly likely that there will be no rape available for grazing this autumn/winter.


A herd of 25 spring-calving suckler cows are co-grazed with the sheep enterprise. Last year’s calves were sold in late March. Bulls averaged €1,520 each and the heifers averaged €1,290 each. Calving went well this spring but turnout was delayed due to ground conditions and a shortage of grass.

This article first appeared in the Farming Independent as part of a Signpost Update.

More information on the BETTER Farm Sheep Programme is available here.

Learn more about the Teagasc Signpost Programme here.