In this week’s sheep segment, That’s Farming, profiles Pauline Murphy, who discusses Allstar Zwartbles’ growth from four to forty pedigree ewes and her role as the Irish Zwartbles Sheep Association’s secretary.
Pauline Murphy, Bunclody, County Wexford, rekindled her passion for farming when she met her partner, Jimmy, who runs the Allstar Zwartbles flock.
The 41-year-old returned to her roots half a decade ago, having grown up on a fourth-generation farm, which her brother, a tillage, farmer, now oversees the running of.
“I did not realise how much I missed the lifestyle until I got back into farming nearly five years ago. We are a blended bunch with Jimmy’s two children, Daniel and Maria and my two boys, Jack and Austin.” Pauline told That’s Farming.
“Jimmy, Maria and I are primarily involved with the day to day running of the farm with the boys willing to help when needed.”
Until recently, they farmed a herd of pedigree Limousin cattle. Now their focus is solely on breeding Zwartbles on the Wexford-based enterprise, which is also home to poultry and donkeys.
Their flock has expanded from 4 ewes to 40 ewes in the past five years. The family chose Zwartbles because of their renowned easy lambing traits and docile nature.
“The farm was only fenced for cattle, so we needed to select a breed which would stay in paddocks with just an electric fence.”
“We needed a lamb that would be quick to mature and, therefore, would not be competing with cattle in the autumn when the grass became scarce, but as the years went by, sheep numbers increased, and cattle numbers decreased, such was the draw of the Zwartbles.”
The breed their 40 ewes to Zwartbles rams, which they source from Northern Ireland and the UK, while some are home-bred.
Breeding programme and ag shows
Lambing takes place at Allstar Zwartbles in early January in line with breed regulations. They lamb all ewes indoors to reduce losses with possible inclement weather conditions, while this practice also aids supervision during lambing.
All ewes are sponged and divided into small groups, based on bloodlines and traits, before being hand mated to the selected ram. After ten days, a ram is introduced to ewes to serve repeats.
The family retain approximately 10% of their ewe lambs for replacements. They send ram lambs that do not have the required physical attributes or are mismarked to ICM, Camolin at 44kg, with the majority grading R3.
“We will sell several quality ram lambs to other breeders for both pedigree and commercial purposes. There has been a huge demand for ewe lambs and hoggets over the last couple of years. Furthermore, we have had a lot of enquiries already this year for breeding stock.”
“We enjoy showing our sheep and attend several shows during the year, with our All Ireland in Clonmel and the Tullamore livestock show being the highlight of the year. We have been lucky enough to win at both shows over the last few years.”
Irish Zwartbles Sheep Association
Pauline is a member of the newly formed Irish Zwartbles Sheep Association (ZSA), formerly the Southern Ireland Branch of the UK (ZSA), and currently serves as its secretary.
She has held this position since 2019, having been approached by the council to step in temporarily.
“As I work full time as an SNA in a secondary school, I am working remotely with students during the school day, so work for the association starts after that.”
“Even though the initial set up of the association has been a lot of work, it has been really good for me during lockdown to keep me busy. I love dealing with people; it is my favourite part of the job.”
“I am in contact with the council daily, but I work mostly with the chairperson, Jimmy, and Jim Croke (PRO).”
“Our other council members are Eamon Haslam, Suzanna Crampton, Colin Stephenson, Peter Howard and Ray Sweeney, our honorary president, who was the first person to introduce Zwartbles into Ireland.”
Commerical market and parting words of advice
Overall, the association would like to see Zwartbles break more into the commercial market.
“They are a fantastic cross with excellent mothering ability traits and produce excellent lambs when crossed back to a terminal sire,” Pauline commented.
“My advice to people entering the sheep sector would be to research the best breed for them and to purchase the best sheep that they can afford to have a good foundation for their flock. Start small and increase as your knowledge and experience grow.”
“I feel privileged to be a woman in agriculture. I love the fact that I can be out on the farm, working with sheep and being able to use my administration skills to help promote both our farm and the association.”
“The future is bright for women in agriculture, and it is brilliant to see so many women doing such a fantastic job in the sector. I would encourage any woman thinking of getting into farming to go for it; you will not regret it.” Pauline of Allstar Zwartbles concluded.