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Prioritising quality grass for lambs on Malin Head

Prioritising quality grass for lambs on Malin Head

Tommy Mullin is a sheep farmer, farming close to the most Northerly point in Ireland at Bree, Malin Head, Co. Donegal. With a sheep flock of 400 lowland ewes, 180 horned ewes and more, we find out from Tommy Doherty, Drystock adviser, Teagasc Letterkenny how this farm manages grass quality

Farming Full-time

The Mullin farm is most certainly a family business with Tommy farming full time alongside his three sons, James, Andrew and Thomas, his daughter Theresa and his wife Kathleen. Tommy’s three sons are all currently working off farm full time, providing vital labour at weekends and evenings, and critically also during lambing time. Tommy outlines how “another labour unit is required on this farm”, however due to the economics associated with sheep farming, all sons are currently working off farm to make a viable income. Supporting a second labour unit on a sheep farm is not a simple task, particularly in the current climate.

With a sheep flock of 400 lowland ewes, 180 horned ewes and 120 retained replacements the farm carries a significant stocking rate considering the weather conditions experienced in the Northwest.

Tommy’s flock consists of Suffolk x Texel ewes on the lowland, with Scottish Blackface ewes on the hill. The hill is well utilised in the system, with horned ewes only housed and on the home block for lambing before returning for the summer grazing. As a participant in Sheep Ireland, Tommy has a big belief in using high genetic merit stock on farm, running 18 rams across Suffolk, Texel, Charollais and Vendeene, all with high index figures.

Grassland management

Grassland management is key to the profitability of any farm system, however 2022 has brought its challenges with weather. “March came in good which was a help to us” outlines Tommy, a big help at that time of year with the lowland flock lambing from the 1st of March. Grass growth has been very sporadic in Co. Donegal to date, with grass heading out 10 days earlier than other years and silage difficult to save in the correct conditions. Tommy is happy to have his silage pit filled since June, with some surplus also baled to leave a cushion for the winter months.

With the difficult growing conditions, Tommy is prioritising his most important batch of stock, weaning his lambs and grazing them on the best covers available on farm. Despite the environmental pressures on the national herd, Tommy has big regard for the suckler cow in his farming system. With a suckler herd of 18 cows, all AI bred, Tommy outlines how “the cows are a critical part of my sheep system”, The suckler herd are vital for cleaning out swards and managing grass on farm, along with the benefits of mixed grazing to worm burdens.  Tommy outlines how he feels “grass is a very difficult crop to manage, you either have too much or too little, and often too much grass is worse for sheep than too little”.

Drafting lambs

During July and August, a draft of lambs continued to be pulled for slaughter. A batch of 25 lambs went in early July at 45kgs, dying 20.22kg at €8.28, a price fully needed with the rising cost of inputs, with another 25 slaughtered in mid July. Going forward Tommy plans for “no big drastic changes” despite the difficulties with rising costs. He spread sufficient fertiliser to get his silage in, with a little less spread on grazing, which so far is keeping enough grass ahead of stock.

Tommy outlines how the investment in infrastructure and handling facilities over the last 20 years has made a big difference to his system, outlining “it’s all about making the thing easier”. 

Biodiversity on the farm

A focus is also firmly on biodiversity on the farm, a participant in an upland scheme, Tommy has planted 700 trees and 200 metres of hedgerow in the last 12 months, an exercise which will not only benefit the environment but also provide precious shelter to his lambing flock in the harsh spring days.

Find out more about the Inishowen Upland Farmers Project and you can also check out Inishowen EIP

Teagasc Advisors are regular contibutors of articles here on Teagasc Daily. | Find more on all aspects of Teagasc Sheep here or contact your local Teagasc Advisor. You can contact any of our Teagasc offices using this link Teagasc Advisory Regions here