This year’s IGA sheep event sponsored by Mullinahone Co-op will take place on Thursday 18th May on the farm of Eddie and Aidan Connell, Coolygagen, Clonbullogue, Co. Offaly. For this year’s event we are switching things up a little with the whole event taking place on farm. The event will kick off at 6pm with refreshments served for all in attendance.
Father and son team, Eddie and Aidan, farm a total of 90 Ha, 65 Ha of owned land plus an additional 25 Ha of rented ground. The majority of the farm is grassland based however there is 15 Ha of tillage which is used to provide feed for finishing animals. There are two main enterprises on the Connell farm: a 400 ewe mid-season lambing flock and a bull beef operation. At any one time there are approximately 200 head of cattle on the farm.
The ewe flock consists predominantly of Borris ewes, a maternal Cheviot X Suffolk for those less familiar. To help simplify their system, the Connells do not keep any replacement ewe lambs, with replacements purchased as hogget ewes. As such all ewes lamb down for the first time as 2 year olds. Texel rams are used across all ewes with particular attention paid to the genetic potential of the sire at purchase. Eddie and Aidan have consistently chosen five star rams, using the Sheep Ireland €uro-star indexes as an additional tool in their armour when buying rams.
Over the past number of years the sheep enterprise has had a scanning rate of 1.8-1.9 lambs per ewe joined to the ram with all lambs finished on farm. Unfortunately, when ewes were pregnancy scanned in December of this year the Connell’s were disappointed with a scan rate of 1.65 lambs per ewe joined. While this is still above the national average, it is below the target for this farm. When speaking with Eddie and Aidan they explained that the farm suffered from the drought in summer 2022 which limited the build-up of grass for flushing ewes pre mating.
The Connell’s farm will be the main focus of our IGA sheep farm walk this year. Grazing management is a priority for both Eddie and Aidan. The 75 Ha of grassland is divided into permanent paddocks with mains electric fence and water available in all paddocks. The average paddock size is 4.5 acres (~2 Ha). Paddocks are further sub-divided using temporary electric fence where necessary during the grazing season. The Connell’s are strong advocates for mixed grazing with the cattle and sheep grazing together when and where possible. Eddie believes that this contributes to achieving better grass utilisation and animal performance compared to grazing animals separately.
Lamb rearing and finishing from a mainly grass based diet is a major objective for both Eddie and Aidan, with little or no meal used in most years. All lambs are reared on ewes, where possible, with cross fostering of triplet lambs on to single ewes a priority at lambing. Lambs are weaned in mid-June to coincide with the availability of after grass from first cut silage. The aim is to have the majority of lambs sold off farm by September, at which point weanlings are purchased for the bull beef enterprise and ewes get preference for grass pre-mating. This system works very successfully for the Connell’s with on average 1.6-1.65 lambs sold per ewe joined per year.
Investigating in labour efficiency is a goal shared by both Eddie and Aidan. The erection of a new sheep shed in 2018 has made life a lot easier for the Connell family, particularly at lambing time. This, combined with a sheep handling unit saves time while also making it easier to work with animals as and when required.
The Connell farm is a high output and efficient farm system. It is a mixed farming operation with a large mid-season ewe flock, a bull beef system and some tillage which is used to provide winter feed and straw. Grass is central to the farm operation, with the majority of lambs sold off grass by September with little or no meal, and grass used to maximise weight gain on the bulls.
The Irish Grassland Association is hugely indebted to Mullinahone Co-op their support of our 2023 Sheep Conference. Speaking on behalf of the sponsors Martin Ryan from Mullinahone Co-op said “We at Mullinahone Co-op are delighted to support the IGA since the outset 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”.
Our event is free and open to everyone. Further information can be found on www.irishgrassland.ie or you can phone Maura at 087-9626483. We are looking forward to seeing you all there.