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Making plans with new BETTER Sheep farmer in Carlow

Eddie Gavin farms alongside his wife and family near Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow while also carrying out machinery contracting for local farmers. Eddie runs sheep, beef & tillage enterprises on farm. Frank Campion, Teagasc Research Officer, reports on Eddie's plans as a new Teagasc BETTER sheep farmer

Eddie has just joined the Teagasc BETTER farm sheep programme this autumn. He farms alongside his wife, two young children and his parents. Currently a farm plan is being discussed and drafted with Eddie, his local Teagasc advisor Eoin Woulfe and Teagasc sheep specialist Ciaran Lynch while also beginning to record data on the flock itself.

Currently Eddie runs a flock of 320 ewes, with 80 ewes lambing in January and the rest of the flock lambing from early March.

The early lambing flock

The early lambing ewes were joined with a team of Charollais rams on the 18th of August. This group of ewes were predominantly older ewes with hoggets kept for lambing with the mid-season lambing ewes and all lambs from the early lambing flock are sold with replacements kept from the mid-season flock. Overall the average BCS of these ewes was good with average BCS of 3.6 but there was a wide variation in BCS recorded in the group with a small number of the ewes being below a BCS of 3.0(minimum target for mating). The reason that some of these ewes lambed last year in January while some lambed with the mid-season flock meaning they didn’t have enough time between weaning and mating to regain body condition prior to mating.

The mid-season flock

Currently Eddie is monitoring the BCS on the mid-season flock and thin ewes have been marked and drafted into a separate group to get preferential feeding. For the BETTER farm flocks in most cases these ewes will be run with the ewe lambs in the run up to mating to allow them preferential access to good quality grass. The target for lowland ewes going to the ram is a BCS of 3.5 at mating. However, averages can be dangerous and hide problems if there is a wide range of BCS’s within a flock. Another way to look at it is to focus on reducing the number of ‘thin’ ewes or reduce to the minimum the number of thin ewes.

Eddie will run a team of Belclare and Suffolk rams with the mid-season lambing flock which were with joined with rams on the 8th of October. The rams were checked though in August and as a result Eddie needed to purchase an additional Suffolk ram. This ram, a 5 star for the replacement index was purchased at the Sheep Ireland ram sale in August and is a performance recroded ram from a high DQI flock, which Eddie is looking for in any rams he purchases for the flock.

Precautions with Buying in stock

Buying early allows time for the ram to be quarantined and go through a biosecurity protocol prior to being introduced to the flock. This is important to ensure no new diseases are introduced to a flock when purchasing stock. Any stock purchased for the farm should get an appropriate fluke and worm dose immediately on arrival on the farm and remain indoors for at least 48 hours so they can pass out any resistant worms prior to being put onto pasture. After this 48 hour period new stock should remain separate from the rest of the flock for a number of weeks to allow any other issues such as CODD to potentially develop without risking infecting the rest of the flock.

Grassland autumn closing plan in place

As part of Eddie’s farm plan he will also be putting in place an autumn closing plan for the grassland on the farm and is currently trying to build grass covers for the weeks ahead.

For mid-season flocks paddocks should be closed in rotation from late October in the rotation order they are needed for next spring, so the paddocks with the most shelter that ewes and lambs go to first should be closed first. The grass grown in these paddocks over the winter months will be vital next spring once lambing begins and discipline is required not to re-graze these paddocks during the winter.

In Eddies case with the early lambing flock a targeted area was also closed in early October for the early lambing flock to be turned out to in January next year.

Read more here about the BETTER Farm Sheep programme. Find out more about Autumn Grassland Management Guidelines for Sheep

The Teagasc Sheep Specialists and Researchers issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers on Tuesdays here on Teagasc Daily. Find more on Teagasc Sheep here. For any further information or assistance contact your local Teagasc Office here: Advisory Regions.