Robert Bailey is an ambitious young farmer from Ballintemple, Fethard, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
He enlists the help of his parents; Heather and Derek, to run a flock of 180 ewes along with 100 ewe lambs which are sold as replacement hoggets in local marts every year.
100 of the Bailey’s ewes are Mayo Mules, while a further 80 first crosses of a Mayo Mule – Suffolk-crosses and Texel-crosses - are farmed.
“I became interested in the Mayo Mule breed following a visit to the Highland Show in Scotland.” the part-time farmer told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
Robert – who traditionally bred Suffolks and Texels - took a leap of faith in 2014 and purchased 30 ewe lambs at a sale hosted by the Mayo Mule and Greyface group; some of the initial foundation females remain on the holding today.
“I tried to breed my own Mules before, but I just found that when you do this you can end up with a lot of rams and wethers.”
“I think it is easier and cheaper to go to the sale and buy whatever lots you want,” he added.
“The Mayo Mule and Greyface group were very helpful. I continue to attend their sales where I purchase sheep for my flock.”
The Tipperary native has selected the Mayo Mule breed – which is a cross between a Scottish Blackface and a Blue-faced Leicester – because of its excellent mothering abilities, hardiness and good prolificacy.
Lambing gets underway from March 1st for a duration of 5-weeks; the ram effect has compacted both the mating season and the lambing season. “Over the last number of years, we have had a scanning rate of approximately 2 lambs per ewe.”
Working for Coolmore Stud in Fethard, on a full-time basis signifies the importance of the breed’s ease of management. “I couldn’t complain about Mayo Mules; they are perfect for my system as you don’t need to be there 100% of the time when they are lambing.”
“I have literally been reared at Coolmore Stud but I began my current position – manager over the foster mares - four years ago.”
“My position and the stud and the flock are working well together but I know no different. The Mules are easy to look after when you get used to them,” he added.
Looking ahead to the future, Robert said that no real major changes are on the horizon for his sheep enterprise.
“I am going to keep farming Mayo Mules – I have no plans to go away from them or the first crosses from the Mayo Mule.”
“I have no plans to expand massively; my sheep are delivering a steady enough income, but I can only hope that prices will increase in the future, as the number of sheep farmers continues to decline.”
“Sheep farming has an ageing population of farmers. The latest National Sheep survey has confirmed that up to 12 farmers a week exited the sheep sector in 2018.”
“Twelve farmers definitely didn’t get into sheep farming. If you go to the mart, there is a limited number of young farmers there.”
Despite the negativity which is evident across the agricultural sector at present, Robert is confident that the Mayo Mule breed has a bright future. “I could not really shine any negative light on Mayo Mules. I find that they make excellent ewes and tick all the boxes.”
“There are ten per pen at the sales and they are definitely worth a try," he concluded.
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