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BETTER Sheep Farming signposts the way in Kerry

Tomas O’ Leary's 40 hectare farm in Kerry is part of the Teagasc BETTER Farm Sheep Programme. Currently Protected Urea is applied every 3 weeks and lamb performance is up almost 10%. Michael Gottstein, Head of Sheep, Teagasc, has the latest from the mid-season ewe flock & contract rearing enterprise

Tomas O’ Leary, his wife Eileen and children Míchéal, Yvonne and Sinead farm approximately 40 adjusted hectares in two blocks of land in Kerry. The farm currently operates a flock of approximately 260 ewes (210 mature ewes and 50 ewe lambs mated) plus a contract dairy heifer rearing enterprise of 90 Friesian / Jersey cross heifers. The farm is split into two blocks 27km apart.

Grass supply

After a slow and somewhat tricky spring grass growth has really taken off in recent weeks. This year cattle remained housed until St. Patrick’s Day due to poor grass growth and poor ground conditions. Over the last few weeks grass growth has exploded and measurements taken on 12th June growth for the previous week indicate the average daily grass growth was 126kg dm/ha. Daily demand was 58kg dm/ha. Four paddocks have been taken out for silage (60 bales) and this has brought the quantity of grass on the farm back into balance at 13 days ahead.

Fertiliser is being applied every three weeks at a rate of 25kg N/ha (20 units per acre) in the form of protected urea. With the exception of standard urea used for the first application this spring and some 10:10:20 used for reseeding all chemical nitrogen this year is being spread as protected urea. All cattle slurry has been spread with a trailing shoe this year. Half the farm was covered at a rate of 1500 gallons of undiluted cattle slurry and four hectares (10 acres) which had been identified as being index 2 for potassium had 3,000 gallons per acre applied. The last of the slurry was spread on the paddocks from which the surplus bales were harvested. To date Tomas has applied 130kg N/ha, 20kg P/ha, 50kg K/ha and 14kg S/Ha across the farm. Grass growth year to date is averaging 6.5 tonnes/ha.


One of the poorer performing paddocks has been taken out and reseeded. This 0.8ha (2 acres) block was reseeded in ideal conditions in early May with a grass/clover mix containing 12.5kg grass (Ballintroy) seed and 2kg (Coolfin) white clover seed per acre. This reseed will be available for weaned lambs to graze in two to three weeks. A further 3.2ha (8 acres) was over-sown with (Coolfin) white clover (3kg clover /acre) using a slot seeder. This area is being grazed tightly and only getting half rate nitrogen applications to aid clover establishment. This week Tomas is spraying off a field on the home farm which has been targeted for reseeding in the coming weeks.

Sheep Performance

Ewes and lambs have done well this spring. Lamb performance up to seven weeks of age is up almost 10% on last year. In total Tomas has approximately 460 lambs on the farm from 210 ewes and 41 ewe lambs to the ram. This gives an overall weaning rate of 1.83. The figure for the mature ewes stands at 1.94 lamb weaned per ewe joined and the ewe lambs are coming in at 1.3 lamb weaned per ewe lamb scanned in lamb.


At the time of writing (16th June) all the lambs are still with the ewes. The aim is to wean all lambs next week. At weaning all lambs will be weighed and we will have a handle on lamb performance from seven weeks to weaning. To date 14 lambs have been drafted for slaughter. The first bunch came in at just over €160/hd after transport and levies had been deducted at a price of €7.90/kg. The second bunch are currently being sold at a price of €7.20/kg. After weaning the lambs will be divided into groups according to liveweight. Depending on grass supply and lamb performance certain groups may receive concentrate supplementation. Currently all lambs except artificially reared lambs and the lambs being reared by ewe lambs are on a grass-only diet.

Parasite control

At this stage all lambs have received two white drenches for nematodirus control. Faecal egg counts are being taken every two weeks since the middle of May. The last sample was submitted on Monday 14th June and Tomas is currently awaiting the results. Feedback from other farmers in the BETTER farm programme suggests that counts are rising rapidly due to the current warm and moist weather conditions. The efficacy of both Levamisole and Macrocyclic Lactone (Ivermectin) drenches have been tested on the farm in 2019 and both are still effective. 

Dairy Heifers

Dairy heifers have also done well this year. The most recent weighing puts their daily liveweight gain at just over 1kg/hd/day. Average weight for the herd is approximately 380kg.  The heifers are co-grazing with the sheep except for the few weeks when synchronising and AI was being carried out as it can be difficult to get the heifers out of the field without the sheep following. At this stage stock bulls are mopping up any remaining repeats following two rounds of AI. The 90 heifers will be remaining on the farm until October when they will be going back to their owner and will be replaced with 90 heifer calves.

New Signpost Sheep Farmer

Tomas has recently agreed to participate as a demonstration farmer in the Signpost Programme.  In the coming weeks, Tomas and his Teagasc Adviser will look at what practices can be adopted on his farm to reduce gaseous emissions and nutrient losses, manage and enhance biodiversity and reduce costs.  Ultimately the aim will be to create a plan to allow Tomas farm in a more sustainable fashion and future proof his farm against future policy and market requirements.  Already, Tomas has adopted a number of the practices identified by Teagasc in this regard, including protected urea, low emission slurry spreading (LESS) and clover.  Another aim of the project is to measure Tomas’ overall farm sustainability levels; results will be available for 2021 in early 2022.

If you liked this article you might also like Farmer Focus: Tomas O’ Leary BETTER Sheep Farm Participant, Kerry also written by Michael Gottstein, Head of Sheep KT Programme, Teagasc

Click on the picture below to find out more about the Teagasc BETTER Farm Sheep Programme

Find out more about the Signpost Programme here

The Teagasc Sheep Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers every second Tuesday here on Teagasc Daily.  Find more on Teagasc Sheep here