In this week’s sheep segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Jason Gibbons, who established his own pedigree flock of Bluefaced Leicesters last year.
2020 is a year that will stand out in Jason Gibbons’ (19) memory for reasons other than the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year, he completed his Leaving Certificate in “what can only be described as unusual circumstances”. The young farmer decided to take a year out and work, but Covid-19 had other plans, with work closing for extended periods.
Not one to rest on his laurels, he established his own flock of Bluefaced Leicesters, which he registers under the ‘Liscorr’ prefix. He runs Liscorr Bluefaced Leicesters on his family farm, 5km from the village of Aughagower, outside Westport in Co. Mayo.
“Living in rural Ireland, farming has always been a major part of the life of generations gone by, on both sides of the family. No doubt this will continue for generations to come,” he told That’s Farming.
“As a child, I think lambing and calving were always a highlight. I have fond memories of lambs and calves running around and playing together.”
“When I was younger, we kept both sheep and suckler cows. However, in recent years, we chose to focus on the sheep side of things and, therefore, decided to sell the cows.”
“It was lovely to be at home for the last two lambing seasons and to be on hand to provide any assistance that may be needed.”
A family affair
Farming is very much a family affair, with Jason and his two brothers and sisters helping out alongside their parents, Peter and Breege. The main flock consists of mid-season lambing commercial ewes, primarily Mayo Mules, with some Suffolk-crosses.
They run a Texel or a Suffolk tup with their mid-season flock in the hope of producing both replacements and wethers that will “have a good kill-out at the earliest convenience”.
“We chose to use Mayo Mule ewes for many reasons. They are known for their prolificacy and milking ability, which derives from the BFL breeding, and they are excellent mothers.”
“On the other hand, I chose Bluefaced Leicesters because of the increasing popularity of mule breeding in the country. I understand the importance of getting a good foundation of females, and I very much live by the phrase ‘quality over quantity’. I have purchased females with top NI and UK bloodlines, both privately and at society sales.”
Pedigree lambing starts in February, and commercial lambing begins mid-March with the aim of “having good lambs come sale time from September onwards”.
“Commercials are lambed from mid-March as we find growth usually starts to pick up from this time, and the weather generally gets milder also (Both of which were not the case this year).”
“We lamb all ewes indoors. It works for our system; we can monitor ewes, and we can assist if and when needed. I installed cameras in the lambing shed in 2020, and it was one of the best investments on the farm in a long time. If they only saved one lamb, they are worth every penny.”
“The pedigree ewes are sponged for a more compact lambing before being AI’d or let to the tup. I hope to use a teaser tup with the commercial flock this year to compact lambing time even further.”
Jason aims to breed his own replacement females for the farm’s pedigree arm. The family sells crossbred ewe lambs for breeding, either privately or through Aurivo Ballinrobe Mart, and sell wether lambs as stores or slaughter them.
“I strive to breed good, correct sheep, with a good mouth, good skin, good feet and nice clean colours. I am taking things slowly at the beginning and hope to get good bloodlines in the pedigree flock to have a good baseline.”
“Sheep have this ability to find every way they possibly can to become unwell or even die. No two days are ever the same, and it can become overwhelming at times.”
“However, you have to keep going for the rest and realise that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, not even your best will be enough,” added the Bluefaced Leicester Society member.
“I am very interested in breeding and genetics. It is so important to match your females to the right tup to ensure you get the best progeny you possibly can.”
“AI is a great way of getting good bloodlines into your flock when you are starting off. A lot of planning goes into the breeding season, but it is all worthwhile when the lambs start hitting the ground.”
“Sheep will test you on the best of days, and you have to be able to deal with it. However, sheep farming can be very rewarding, and once you are organised, it will work out.”
Advice for aspiring sheep breeders
Having established his own pedigree flock in the last year, Jason provided some words of advice for aspiring sheep breeders.
“Firstly, choose a breed that best suits your system, and do not rush things at the beginning. To note, quality is always better than quantity, and it will stand to you in years to come. Secondly, be organised and plan out your tasks well. Finally, do not ever hesitate to approach people for advice.”
“The highlight, for me, has been getting to know so many new people and being able to take on board their advice and see the results on the farm today.”
“I do not think any farmer will deny that buying stock can become an addiction. But, ultimately, the goal would be to build the pedigree flock to a steady number. Then, I hope to look at carrying out some ET work on a select few of the flock’s best breeding females.”
“My goal, since day one, has been to breed tup lambs with good crossing blood, who will go on to breed top-class mules. Also, I strive to breed quality females who will breed well in the flock and for future buyers.”
“I have always had a passion for farming and had always wanted to start a pedigree flock. I hope to breed top quality animals and to become known in the breed community.”
“As with every industry, there will always be new challenges to overcome. However, more and more emphasis is being put on the environmental side of things and will undoubtedly continue.”
“There will always be a demand for food, and I am hoping that trade in 2021 and for the foreseeable future follows that of 2020,” the owner of Liscorr Bluefaced Leicesters concluded.
You can follow Jason on Instagram here.
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