Focus on the factors under your control that can significantly affect your output and profits, sheep farmers were advised by Teagasc experts at the big Sheep 2012 event in Co Galway.
Adopt a three to five-year business plan focussing on the following drivers of profit — amount of grass grown, stocking rate, the number of lambs reared per ewe joined, reducing the amount of meal fed, and improving flock health.
Grow sufficient grass — it’s the cheapest feed — and keep quality leafy grass in front of the flock at all stages.
On lowland farms, this requires a reseeding programme. New improved grasses are more productive, particularly early in the season. There is scope on many farms to extend the grazing season early and late, thus reducing the requirement for saved fodder.
Align lambing more closely to grass supply. There is significant evidence on some farms that too much purchased concentrate is fed to both ewe and lambs. This does nothing for profit, and replaces cheaper grazed grass.
Consider creep grazing lambs ahead of ewes as an alternative to creep feeding concentrate to the lambs.
Lamb production based on high use of concentrate becomes less sustainable when concentrate prices go high, or lamb prices go low.
In general, lambs must be managed and marketed to a high quality standard that merits a premium market price. Carcase weight and fat cover are the main factors in carcase quality. Producers must become familiar with the carcase specifications for the markets they serve.
The Bord Bia Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme sets a widely recognised standard and membership of this scheme will give access to the higher priced premium markets.
Lowland farmers need a strategy of producing prolific flock replacements, preferably from within their own flock.
Female progeny from Belclare rams have the capacity to wean 1.75 lambs per ewe joined. Each farmer must determine the most suitable animal for their production system.
The next question is how to arrive at that animal, using the sheep breeding programmes being developed by Sheep Ireland, including their sheep value indexes. A farmer interested in finishing all lambs for slaughter should pay particular attention to the Sheep Ireland production sub-index.
A farmer looking to breed his own replacements should examine the maternal sub-index carefully. In both cases, careful attention should be paid to the Sheep Ireland star ratings.
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