Joe Forristal – who works in the tech industry - and Keelin Walsh – who works in food marketing – established the Bord-Bia Quality-Assured Baunskeha Flock in 2016.
Based in Baunskeha, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, the husband-and-wife-duo – who both hail from agricultural backgrounds - went in search of a suitable farming system in 2016 and sought advice from a farm advisor and Andrew Forristal – Joe’s brother who is a full-time farmer.
Joe’s uncle – Pat Forristal – had farmed sheep in Baunskeha for over five decades, so they were keen to keep up the tradition.
“The land needed fencing so we investigated options and availed of the TAMS II sheep fencing grant which was attractive and good support scaling-up the enterprise.” They told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
“The land is in small parcels, so is suitable for strip grazing. Sheep are good for the ground all-year-round and have a low environmental impact.” They said.
Mules, Easycare, Suffolk, Cheviot and Charollais commercial ewes are bred to a Charmoise ram – a medium-sized breed that was selected due to its ease of lambing; lamb vigour and terminal traits.
“I’ve been told a Charmoise's ratio of meat to bone is greater than any other sheep breed and I would agree on results I have seen to date,” Joe said.
They introduced Easycare and Mule ewes to their pastures because of their ease of lambing with good milk and mothering abilities. Easycare ewes have a dense fleece meaning that they can withstand harsh weather and are suited to out-wintering.
“The mix has worked very well, with very little health problems; we have had no issues with ewes going on their back and they have all lambed un-assisted to date.” They added.
Analysing data to improve the flock
Over the last three years, the part-time farmers have been experimenting with different breeds and expect to branch out to a specific breed in the coming years, having monitored breed performance in their system.
Data such as ewe performance, farm accounts, to-do lists and medical notes are recorded using a system Joe developed for farm monitoring.
“It is nice to be able to apply skills gained from my day job to assist with the farm,” Joe said.
As Joe and Keelin have full-time off-farm positions, it is difficult for them to assist ewes during lambing which takes place mainly outdoors from early April.
With new-born lambs outside, foxes can be a big problem in Joe’s and Keelin’s area. Applying Stockholm tar to the lamb’s neck and head area has proved a very good deterrent, they maintain.
Joe and Keelin retain a percentage of their best performing ewe lambs and have a system in place for monitoring the performance of ewes and lambs throughout the season.
“All the lambs can be traced back to their mothers and are weights recorded throughout the season,” Joe explained.
The plan is to keep an average of approximately 20% replacements, going forward. “We are building up data on medical conditions and performance of the flock to assist with decision making.”
Lambs are sent to Irish Country Meats in Camolin, Co. Wexford and are also sold at Kilkenny Mart and New Ross Mart.
When the pair began farming two years ago, work was undertaken to improve the holding. The farm bounds were made stock-proof and some land was reclaimed as it had been encroached in certain fields and disused.
Joe and Keelin added extra paddocks ranging from 2-4-acres in size; these are ideal for strip grazing and better grass utilisation.
A holding area, footbath and a small shed were also erected, gates were replaced and widened and made more accessible for modern machinery.
Lime has been applied to improve pH levels and the couple have the improved drainage of certain fields. Other additions hedgerows to provide shelter and a rainwater harvesting tank.
Looking forward, the duo hope to reclaim and fence another area that has been encroached and start reseeding to improve grass productivity this year.
“The area will be reseeded using a clover mix and we intend to introduce Typhon to the diet for finishing lambs when reseeding.”
Their plans over the next few years are to reseed other areas of the farm to improve grass production and to add extra paddocks to help parasite control.
The mixes they have identified include white clover, plantain, brome chicory, cocksfoot, timothy and meadow grass. “This mix ensures a good all-year growth that doesn’t rely so much on fertilisers,” Joe said.
They are satisfied with their flock size at present; however, by implementing the changes outlined, they will have the capacity to increase numbers.
By introducing clover through reseeding and other measures, they hope to be in a good position to start the transition plan to become organic in the next twenty-four months.
“We believe in sustainable and traditional farming practices and take small actions to reduce our carbon output such as solar electric fencing, planting hedges rows and non-intensive farming methods.”
“Consumers today are concerned about the environmental impact of high-intensity farming, antibiotics and applying chemicals to land and are seeking high-quality food produced in a sustainable manner.”
Joe and Keelin are striving to develop a closed-loop dietary system which is primarily grass-based and coupled with the highest standards of animal welfare and husbandry, to deliver a high-quality product.
“As climate change becomes a defining issue for our generation, we believe Ireland can be a global leader in -sustainably produced food.”
"We really enjoy sheep farming and find it very rewarding as we look to improve the flock in the coming years." They concluded.
For more information, follow Baunskeha Flock on Twitter.
“Live as though you are going to die tomorrow and farm as though you are going to farm forever!”
Image source: Baunskeha Flock