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April 2021 Teagasc BETTER Sheep Farm Focus - Kevin Carey

As lambing is winding down grazing management and husbandry are key to ensure lambs perform. Frank Campion Teagasc Sheep Researcher Mellows Campus, Athenry gives an update on the progress of the Carey Family farm since joining the Teagasc Better Sheep farm programme in Autumn 2020.

The Carey family farm

Kevin Carey runs a split hill and lowland sheep flock in Belmullet, Co. Mayo with his wife and their two children. Kevin, who has been farming since 2015, also works full time off farm and joined the Teagasc BETTER Farm Sheep Programme in autumn 2020. The farm is comprised of approximately 17 ha of good quality green ground, a 41 ha share of commonage and there is also grazing rights on Inishkea Island. Kevin is currently just finishing lambing the lowland flock which went well, while the hill ewes are about half way through lambing.

The Lowland Flock

The lowland flock is comprised of 72 lowland ewes lambing from March 10th, predominantly mules, that were mated to Hampshire Down and Suffolk rams last October. Having the correct lambing date is vitally important to ensure ewes are lambing to match grass supplies on the farm.

Ensure ewes are lambing to match grass supplies on the farm

The plan is to move Kevin’s lambing date back to March 17th from next year to better match commencement of grass growth on the farm. Currently the land area assigned to the lowland flock is stocked at approximately 7 ewes/ha but part of the farm plan is to increase this to 10 ewes/ha in the coming years.

Grassland and Fertiliser

Currently the grass covers on the farm are averaging 400kg DM/ha and growth has been slow during the first half of April as a result of the cooler temperatures. The target on the farm is for the ewes to be going into covers of 8-10cm and grazing out to 4.0-4.5cm. There are dry yearling ewes on the farm that will be used during the grazing season to help clean out paddocks to the desired post grazing heights and allow the ewes and lambs to stay regularly moving on to fresh covers. In early March, Kevin spread protected urea @ 25 N kg/ha (½ bag/acre) and went with another round of fertilizer last week, this time using 18-6-12 (1 bag/acre). This second application of fertilizer will be vital to ensure grass stays growing and to help maintain grass quality.

Coccidiosis and Nematodirus treatment

The lambs from the lowland flock will be drenched with a Benzimidazole based dench (white drench) for Nematodirus in the coming week in line with the Department of Agriculture and Marine and Food forecast. It is important when lambs are observed to be scouring in early life that a Coccidia infection is also considered. Where there is a known coccidiosis problem on the farm then lambs should be dosed for coccidiosis. Last year Kevin had coccidiosis in young lambs for this first time and as a result this year will be treating his lambs for coccidia in the coming week also. However, on farms where there has been no history of coccidiosis then lambs should be drenched for Nematodirus first and if they don’t respond within a few days then dosing for coccidiosis needs to be considered. 

The Hill Flock

The 47 hill ewes, Scottish Blackface, began lambing on the 10th of April after being mated to a Blue Leicester ram. Similarly to the lowland flock, the lambing date for this flock will be moved back next year to the 15th of April to better suit the farm. Part of the farm plan is to increase the hill ewe numbers in the coming years. The twin bearing hill ewes were moved indoors at the start of lambing while the singles are being lambed outdoors and as with the lowland flock Kevin is recording data such as lambing difficulty, lamb birth weight etc. for all these ewes and lambs.

The single rearing hill ewes and their lambs will be moved to Inishkea Island after lambing where they will graze for the summer while the twin rearing ewes will graze the green ground assigned to them before going out to the hill. A key part of having a split flock such as Kevin’s is to have designated grazing area for each flock so as to avoid leaving either flock short of grass at any time during the year. This is particularly important at times of high grass demand and low growth rates such as early spring and late autumn.

For more on Kevin Carey's farm see Kevin Carey Teagasc Sheep BETTER Farm programme

For more on the BETTER Farm Sheep Programme click here