This year’s IGA sheep conference sponsored by MSD Animal Health and Mullinahone Co Op will take place in the Headfort Arms Hotel, Kells, Co. Meath. The format will be similar to previous years with an indoor conference in the morning followed by a farm walk in the afternoon. Registration for the conference will commence from 10am with the conference starting at 10.30am and proceedings wrapping up for 4pm.
The indoor morning session has an excellent line up of speakers with Mairead McGuinness, MEP and Miriam Parker, Livestockwise Ltd., UK taking to the podium before we finish with a panel discussion hosted by Darren Carty, Irish Farmers Journal.
Mairead McGuinness will give an overview of the European Union’s view towards the family farm with a particular emphasis on Irish farming systems. She will also address current consumer attitudes towards Agriculture and whether or not the EU’s policies will change depending on these attitudes. Miriam is an Agricultural science graduate who has specialised in animal production, welfare and handling systems. Are we making the most of our handling facilities? Miriam will outline the science behind handling unit design and provide us with specialist advice on building or renovating handling units for sheep production systems. She will discuss the varying types of handling unit design outlining the positive and negative aspects of each, depending on your specific production system. Below is a video of Miriam introducing us to Cattle handling systems.
Wrapping up the morning session there will be a panel discussion on labour demand and use efficiency on sheep farms and how sheep farming can be the perfect complement to your off farm employment. A panel discussion, chaired by Darren Carty, Irish Farmers Journal, will highlight the opportunities and challenges which are faced by sheep farmers regarding labour demand on the farm. The panel will consist of three speakers, John O’Connor, Teagasc Kildalton, Darrell Meehan, part-time sheep farmer, Co. Westmeath and John Bell, sheep farmer. Each of our three panellists will give an overview of their involvement in the sheep industry and their personal experience in relation to labour efficiency on sheep farms. As we are all aware sheep farming is a seasonal based production system however the demand for labour can be quite intensive at certain times of the year. The growing number of part-time farmers coupled with the heavy reliance on family help can often mean that the smaller tasks become a bigger chore on the farm. We will look at how employing shared labour or availing of agricultural student placements can facilitate greater labour efficiency and alleviate stress that can be associated with busier periods.
Following lunch the attendees will travel to the farm of John Brady for the afternoon session. John farms 400 acres just outside Navan in Co. Meath. The farm currently has over 1100 mature ewes and 250 ewe-lambs which are all mid-season lambing. John also contract rears 50 dairy replacement heifers, finishes 50 Friesian bulls & fattens 60 cull cows. Over the previous two years his sheep production enterprise has had a weaning rate of 1.43 lambs per ewe in 2017 and 1.35 lambs per ewe in 2018, which is comparable to the national average achieved across the country.
John firmly believes that having good grazing infrastructure will enable you to get the most out both of grass and labour efficiency on the farm. Paddocks are a key feature of Johns grass management. He aims to close paddocks from the 3rd week of October each year which ensures that there is enough grass available at lambing so ewes do not have to be meal fed in the spring. On the main grazing block there are 32 paddocks with an average paddock size of 5ac (2ha) which works really effectively to ensure optimum grassland management. At the moment the remainder of the farm is in larger divisions however the aim is to subdivide these in order to facilitate management. Currently, both the 5ac paddocks & the larger divisions are further subdivided with temporary fencing when required throughout the main grazing season. This has facilitated the production of good quality silage on the farm where silage quality has averaged 72DMD over recent years.
As described by John himself ‘most of the paddocks are twice as long as they are wide’. He finds that this simplifies tractor work & reduces the walking distance to the end of the paddock for livestock while also minimising poaching during difficult weather conditions and has made the temporary subdividing of paddocks easier to manage. Rather than putting in roadways the decision was made to include two paddocks in the centre of the main grazing block. These two long narrow paddocks are now used to channel livestock into the handling unit which makes it easier to move both cattle & sheep from the surrounding paddocks to the centrally located handling unit.
John is working full time on the farm and has also employed one full-time employee. Johns’ Teagasc adviser, Edward Egan is fully of the opinion that ‘whether you have 100 or 1,000 ewes you need a good handling unit for the safe, timely & efficient completion of tasks’. John has a centrally located handling unit, which will be visited as part of the farm walk. The unit is multi-purpose and handles both cattle & sheep. Recent instalments have included a batch footbath that will hold 25 ewes. In addition to the fixed handling unit there is also a mobile handling unit used on the farm however future development plans include building a second fixed handling unit on a 58ac (24ha) out-farm.
Both the morning and afternoon sessions will address pertinent topics including labour efficiency, making the most of your faming infrastructure and the challenges and benefits of operating a large scale, multi enterprise grassland livestock system.
The Irish Grassland Association is hugely indebted to Mullinahone Co Op and MSD Animal Health for their support of our 2019 Sheep Conference. Speaking on behalf of the sponsors John Heslin from MSD Animal Health said “MSD Animal Health is proud to sponsor the IGA Sheep event. Events such as this provide a knowledge sharing opportunity to ensure the efficient production of healthy, quality lambs”, and Liam Egan from Mullinahone Co Op said “We at Mullinahone Co-op are delighted to Support the IGA for the last fifteen years and in particular their sheep conference as it allows sheep farmers to look at efficient and sustainable production systems that will help overcome the challenges which will inevitably face sheep farmers over the next decade”.
Book your tickets early! To book your tickets, you can post back your booking form and payment in the prepaid envelope sent out to members. Alternatively, you can also book online at www.irishgrassland.ie or phone Maura at 087-9626483.
This year the conference will take please in the Headfort Arms Hotel which is located approximately 30 minutes from the M50.
For further information please visit www.headfortarms.ie