14 Mar, 2023

Sticking to the plan in times of rising input costs

Farming in Trim, Co. Meath, Peter and Tom McGuiness run an 800-ewes farm, lambing in mid-March on a 75ha block. All ewes are lambed outdoors, with the main focus of the farm being to maximise grass growth and utilisation, selling all lambs by mid-October before breeding commences.

Focus on grazed grass

During his work in New Zealand in 2019, Peter gained valuable experience in grass measuring. He applied this experience on his return, leading to him being awarded Sheep Grassland Farmer of the Year in 2020.

At present, the farm is growing 14 tonnes DM/ha. To maintain quality, Peter completes over 30 grass walks per year, allowing him to make informed decisions throughout the year.

The 75ha block is divided into 20 paddocks, and over the course of the year, Peter subdivides these paddocks to maximise grass utilisation. Contract-reared heifers are brought in over the peak growing months, and any surplus grass is taken off in bales.

Ewes carrying singles and twins are outwintered on kales, with ewes carrying triplets housed for a period. This allows Peter to build a cover of grass over the winter in preparation for letting ewes to fresh grass once they have lambed.

Future plans with rising input cost

Maximising weight gain on lambs from grazed grass remains the key focus here. Despite fertiliser prices, grazed grass still provides the most cost-effective feed source. A compact lambing period allows the weaning of lambs in mid-June. From this point, lambs are grazed ahead of ewes ensuring the best quality grass is available.

A key component of the system is that all lambs are sold by the first week of October in order to ensure that there are adequate levels of grass available for ewes when breeding commences in mid-October. Peter believes that the slaughter age of lambs is crucial to having a profitable system based on grazed grass. As lambs are drafted regularly over the summer, lighter/poorer performing lambs are identified for supplementary concentrate feeding.

Peter believes the additional cost here is justified over having lambs on the farm into the Christmas. It also has the benefit of allowing ewes to be in good condition when going to the ram, increasing the prolificacy of the flock.

This article was first published in our 2023 Irish Farm Report