All roads will lead to the Horse and Jockey hotel in Co. Tipperary for this year’s IGA sheep conference, with an indoor conference to take place in the morning, followed by a farm walk in the afternoon.
Darren Carty livestock specialist with the Irish Farmers Journal and former IGA council member will open proceeding with an in-depth analysis of the sheep industry with a specific focus on the changes that have occurred over the past 10-15-years. Following this Kevin McDermott and Eamon Wall, programme managers for Sheep Ireland, will discuss the main milestones achieved over the first decade of the sheep Ireland programme and reveal what the future may hold for Irish sheep breeding.
Mathew Blyth, Flock manager from Didling farms Ltd., based in West Sussex UK will discuss the management of the 1000-ewe flock; grazing rotations; the use of alternative forages and how incorporating the latest technology has helped him manage and improve their flock performance.
Conference attendees will then make their way to the farm of John Large and his family in Gortnahoe, located just inside the borders of Co. Tipperary. The home farm is located on the outskirts of the village and is the base for a busy Sheep and Suckler beef system. The farm also encompasses a further two blocks of ground that add up to an 80-ha operation.
John, who sits on the board of Sheep Ireland as a farmer representative is one of the Central Progeny Test (CPT) flocks working with Sheep Ireland; he was one of the original participants in the programme since it began back in 2010. He also previously he participated in a number of Teagasc on-farm ram evaluation trials. Aside from breeding initiatives, he has embraced the grazing challenge having previously also hosted one of the Grass10 Programme sheep-walks.
The sheep system makes up the main part of the farming enterprise, running a closed flock which comprises of 630-mature ewes and 160 ewe lambs that are also joined. Stocked at approximately 12 ewes per hectare, with all progeny excluding replacements taken to finish this is a high-output system.
As part of the CPT Programme, all the mature ewes are artificially inseminated. This process takes place in two phases in mid-October with a two-day interval in-between each. In total, four different ram breeds Texel; Suffolk; Charollais; and Belclare were used on the flock. Following the round of AI, the ewes are divided into three groups and natural service is used with rams being introduced to cover the repeats.
A key focus on the farm has been to ensure these lambs are well grown prior to mating aiming to reach a target weight of 48 kg at joining. These ewe lambs are joined for two cycles with all rams on the farm being removed by the start of December, enabling the lambing to be wrapped up by early April. The focus on ensuring ewes reach target has been paying dividends, pregnancy rates for the group this year are 86.5 % with those pregnant carrying on average 1.24 lambs.
A challenge posed by having such large numbers lambing at one time is the need for sufficient amounts of grass at turn-out. John has focused efforts to ensure sufficient ground is rested from October on to have reserves built up for spring. Increasing the number of divisions on the farm and investments in fencing infrastructure has aided in this process. To keep supplies in check in the middle of the grazing season heavy covers are removed as baled silage. This has the added benefit of providing high DMD silage for both the sheep and beef systems on the farm during the winter period.
Focusing on efficiency and performance of the flocks is a key aspect of management, and drafting lambs is no exception. Once they start to approach finish weights, lambs are assessed and drafted every two weeks with lambs weighted and assessed for fat cover. John aims for a 20 +kg U or R3 carcass. To achieve the desired level of finish, John will introduce concentrate supplementation from August. Rather than blanket feeding, all lambs are batched according to weight on the farm with those over 40 kg supplemented. Forage rape is also grown and used to finish a proportion of lambs in October and November.
The Large family also operate a beef enterprise, with a 35-cow autumn calving suckler herd. Replacements for the suckler herd are purchased and all bull calves from the herd are sold as weanlings in the spring. The heifers are carried over to the following year and finished off the farm. Good grassland management is central to the beef side in order to achieve performance; this system is operating at 2.4lu per hectare achieving an output of 774 kg per hectare.
This event has been kindly sponsored by MDS Animal Health and Mullinahone Co-op. If you wish to attend the conference, registration is essential - click here or call 087 9626483.