That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with James Walsh in this week’s sheep farming segment. The Charollais sheep breeder explains how his grandfather and grand-uncle ignited his passion for agriculture when he was 14-years-old.
“I am 35-year-old James Walsh from Ladysbidge in Co Cork. I come from a farming background it goes back several generations on my mother’s side (Murphy).
I was seven when I started going out on the farm with my grandfather, Timothy Murphy.
My earliest fondest memories revolve around going on the tractor with my grandfather (the same tractor that I learnt to drive on) and going to the mart with him.
I completed the Green Cert and inherited the farm from my mother and my gran-aunt.
I am farming full-time, with responsibility for the enterprise’s day-to-day running and am also involved in sheep shearing on hire.
Charollais sheep breeder
My land is in Ladysbridge near my home; I have roughly 80-acres.
My father and I run the enterprise, which comprises pedigree sheep (both Texel and Charollais) and suckler cows. I operate a calf-to-weanling system and find sucklers complement my sheep enterprise.
I run Shanavagoon Charollais, which I established in 2005 and Shanavagoon Texels, which I founded in 2019.
I selected the Charollais breed because I first used them in my commercial flock in 2003-2004, which enabled me to gain an insight into their cross-breeding abilities.
Then, I decided I had to start a pedigree flock of Charollais for their ease of lambing and extremely fast finish time. They can go to any weight without putting on any excess fat. Moreover, Charollais-crosses are highly sought-after by butchers.
Then almost sixteen years ago, I sold my main commercial flock almost and farm 10-15 commercials now.
Then, I established a pedigree Texel flock in 2019 because I always liked the breed.
But despite this, Charollais will win every time for me; they are my favourite breed.
I have built up my flock by retaining only my best ewe lambs from maternal and high-performing lines within the Flock.
Furthermore, I have made selective purchases in the form of lambs and in-lamb ewes. Some have done extremely well for me, both as breeding ewes and show winners.
Now, the flock comprises 80 pedigree ewes (registered with the Irish Texel Society and Irish Charollais Sheep Society) and 10-15 commercial ewes (as I mentioned previously).
I have five rams: four pedigree Charollais and one pedigree Texel.
I operate an indoor lambing system, and the season begins from January 1st onwards.
I am a member of the ICSS (Irish Charollais Sheep Society), and as per society rules, you cannot lamb before this date.
I sponge most of the ewes and also have some ewes that are bred naturally and run with a ram.
I have recently installed cameras in lambing sheds for the first time this year, and they have proven to be a fantastic investment. I do not know how I managed without them and would recommend them to everyone.
Fast-growing and easily lambed
I breed pedigree rams to sell to commercial farmers, who are my bread and butter.
I strive to produce rams that will breed fast-growing lambs and are easily lambed.
Besides, I sell rams to pedigree breeders at the breed society’s premier sale in Tullow Mart, Co Carlow; that sale takes place on the last Saturday of July every year.
In terms of females, I retain some as replacements to maintain my flock size. However, I sell surplus breeding stock as in-lamb hogget ewes at the society’s female sale in Tullow Mart, which occurs on the last Saturday in October every year.
Overall, I aim to breed true-to-type sheep, that are easily lambed and light boned.
Lambing season and ag shows
Lambing season is my favourite time of year on-farm. I enjoy seeing new life being born, but it is also the hardest time of the year.
Besides, prices and margins are getting tighter every single year.
I am a pedigree sheep breeding enthusiast. I love the whole area of ovine genetics and striving to breed this perfect sheep that probably does not even exist.
Another aspect of farming that I take pride in is exhibiting sheep at agricultural shows.
My best achievement to date is winning the champion senior ewe and reserve overall champion at the 2019 all-Ireland.
Also, I experienced success at the society’s online show in 2020 with my 1st prize-winning hogget ram and supreme champion with my hogget stock ram, Bawnard Razzle Dazzle.
Advice for aspiring sheep breeders
My advice to aspiring sheep breeders is as follows: Start with the best ewes and rams you can afford. I would stress the importance of investing in a quality ram because you must remember a ram is half your flock.
Coupled with superior genetics, have good grassland management practices, as this is key, in my opinion.
Furthermore, it is important to keep it simple and have good handling and lambing facilities – you need to be well set-up.
NI bloodlines and top-end rams
In terms of my own plans for the future, I wish to maintain my current flock size and focus on introducing more out-cross lines to the flock.
Over the past year-and-a-half, I have begun introducing bloodlines from Northern Ireland to the flock.
To date, I have invested in one ram and eight ewes from NI-based flocks, so I hope to do more of this in the future.
My overall aim is to produce top-end rams for pedigree use, and with the purchase of one very high-priced ewe lamb that has flushing potential last November, I feel this is possible.
Besides, I want to improve grassland management and get better all the time at what I am doing as I believe there is always room for improvement no matter what.
At the minute, commercial sheep prices are good, but lamb prices need to hold or even increase. Input costs, for instance, feed and fertiliser, have gone so high.
Input costs and the green agenda are the biggest challenges facing farmers at present.
Looking back, being a farmer is something that I have always wanted to do.
Honestly, I never saw myself doing anything else but being a farmer. My grandfather, Tim, and grand-uncle, William, got me started from a young age.
They taught me everything that I know about farming, and I always looked up to them.
They started me in sheep with a few commercial ewes when I was 14-years-old, and it grew from there to where I am today.
Overall, I am happy with where I am today, and I would not change anything if I could,” the Charollais sheep breeder concluded.
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