In this week’s sheep farming segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Ronan McLaughlin from Ballyboe Suffolks. He discusses building his flock using a 3,600gns ewe, the breed’s influence on the commercial market, the commercial Suffolks fast birth to sale turnaround and having a share in a 40,000gns ram.
“I am a firm believer in letting your stock do the talking no matter what it is.”
These are the words of Ronan McLaughlin, who established Ballyboe Suffolks five years ago, and owns a share in the 40,000gns Aston Martin.
He initially established his flock by purchasing a ewe at the Dark Diamond Export Show and Sale for 3,600gns from the Wilson brothers and he later imported ewes from the UK.
The Malin, County Donegal, native farms a 150-acre enterprise with his wife, Caroline, and: children Emma Jane (18), Sarah (9), and Chloe, and Karol (7).
The Ballyboe flock comprises 23 pedigree Suffolk ewes, six pedigree Texel ewes and crossbred ewes.
The McLaughlin family previously had another flock, but this is Ronan’s first prefix.
“In 1993, with the help of my father, Martin, we built up a nice flock of ewes.”
“In 2001, I sold the flock to Fr Joe Delaney in Roscommon. We were doing a lot of travelling, and we were very involved in the horses.”
“In 2016, I started to study pedigree breeding again, and we bought our first couple of Suffolk ewes.”
“The idea to get back into Suffolk sheep was always there.”
“Each year, we have been adding the best of what bloodlines are available out there. We have continued investing quite heavily in ram lambs and ewes each year.”
“My father did a little bit of farming. When I was getting near my teens, the first bit of farming started. There would not have been a beef herd or a sheep flock before me. In 2016, my father passed away, unfortunately.”
Horses and texels
Aside from his sheep farm, Ronan is heavily involved in the horse industry.
He produces young horses for the top of the equestrian sport and owns Glenleary Riding School and Malin Stables, which provide a learn-to-ride service.
“Our main part of the business would be my end, where we focus very much on show jumping.”
“Since 2007, we have been trying to source that very good showjumper. Since then, we find that animal needs to be based in mainland Europe.”
Furthermore, Ronan branched into breeding Texel sheep recently.
He established Ballyboe Texels after acquiring six Texel ewes from the Forkins flock, Procters Farm, Lancashire, at the Select Seven Texels Sale and the Shannah flock at the Carrick Dazzlers sale.
Ronan outlined why he chose the sheep breed.
“They have been a breed I always had a love for with their influence on the commercial market in Ireland and ability to breed like for like and their temperament.”
“I do not know any other breed that can lift a commercial flock to where it needs to be.”
“It has been a breed that got a grip on me, and it is going nowhere.”
Ronan feels the breed has great power, a good temperament, and a “fantastic” mothering ability. “From a commercial point of view, their turnaround from birth to sale is fantastic.”
ET work and AI
Ronan uses his crossbred Suffolk ewes as recipients through ET work, crossing them to a Bluefaced Leicester-cross sire with all AI’d first as part of this programme.
‘The Sheep Vet’, Patrick Grant and AB Europe complete this.
“When I got back involved in sheep farming, I was quite blown away with ET work that had taken over.”
“If you want to be in the game and try to get yourself to the top, we do not have an option other than to go down the AI and ET routes.”
“There is a lot of money invested in rams and ewes. If you want to buy the top-end females to maximise your chances, this is the only option.”
Three Suffolk rams – the 44,000gns Ballinatone Showstopper ram, bought from Blessington, Blackberry Blacklable and Strathbogie Ghost Rider – served ewes this year.
Sportsmans Cannonball, Sportsmans Dear Devil, and Castlecairn Doodle Bug covered all Texel breeding females.
The Donegal native lambs his first batch of Suffolk ewes on December 30th.
The second group of ewes on January 10th, with 99% of these being pedigree lambs as a result of ET work.
Texel ewes lamb between February 12th and March 14th.
“We have our Texel sheep lambing in mid-February. Then, we have 50 commercial sheep that we crossed to a Bluefaced Leicester ram, and they are due in mid-March.”
Ronan uses an Alma Security Systems camera to aid him in running an indoor lambing system.
He compacts the flock’s lambing period by keeping everything as clean as possible pre-lambing, disinfecting sheds, and leaving ewes out longer in December to keep them, fitter.
“My long-term aim is to completely close the flock to breed our own recipients and alongside our pedigrees, a commercial replacement ewe.”
“That has the value that you can bring to the marts, which I think there is a big opening in.”
Progeny: Ballyboe Suffolks
The lambs spend up to fourteen weeks with ewes before selecting them accordingly for sale or retaining.
The flock keeps typically 20 ewe lambs from a total crop of 40 Suffolks.
The ram sales include the Suffolk Sheep Society Northern Ireland Branch Premier Export Show and Sale, Scottish area branch show and sale, Lanark, South of Ireland Premier Show Blessington, and Donegal Suffolk Premier Show and Sale.
He sells his ewes at the Black Beauties Suffolk Female Sale, Blessington, Big Bang Female Export Sale, and a sale Ronan founded, the Black Magic Summer Collection timed auction.
“We find our local off-farm sales have slowly built up every year with repeat customers. Our motto has always been to put females forward for sale that we look to buy ourselves.”
“Because we are focused on flushing, we normally keep up to two females to add in, and we offer the rest for sale.”
Purchases and sales
Ronan is a member of the Suffolk Sheep Society, Irish Texel Sheep Society, and Donegal Suffolk Sheep Breeders.
He attended the NSBA championships in Kilkenny and intends to showcase the flock at more events in the future.
- In 2017, he purchased the mother of the famous Aston Martin ram from the Limestone flock at the Three Nations Sale for €5,500; and Burness Leader at the Dark Diamond Sale from Melvin Stuart for 3,700gns;
- 2020 – received €4,500 at the Three Nations Sale for a female;
- In 2021, he received €3,500 at Big Bang Export Show and Sale; and had a share in a 44,000gns ram bought in Blessington from the Ballinatone flock;
- Also, in 2021, he paid 12,500gns for Strathbogie Ghost Rider, ram in Shrewsbury; and purchased a ram Blackberry Blacklable for 10,000gns
“Our biggest investment to date was Aston Martin for 40,000gns in Lanark together from the Shannon Casalime flock.”
Other notable purchases included buying a female reserve champion from the Balmoral sale from the Ballycannon flock and the Birness flock’s top hogget at the 2021 Dark Diamond Export Show and Sale for 9,000gns.
Donegal sheep farmer
The Donegal sheep farmer shared what he believes is the key to success in pedigree breeding sheep.
“You have to have a passion for pedigree sheep farming. It is a big commitment, and there is a lot of management involved.”
“There is no room for error with your sheep. It involves dedication and hard work like everything else to do with farming.”
“There is no real key to the success of pedigree breeding other than trying to invest in the best possible bloodlines, making the right choice and management.”
“There is no set recipe; you need a bit of luck. Management is everything. Having the ability to maximise your product is vital. It is a combination of a balanced diet, forage, and land management.”
“We also reseed a lot every year. The sheep work hand-in-hand with horses maximising your intake with them.”
“We create our own winter grazing with sheep after horses. Very little of our horse enterprise is on grass. They are pretty much housed all year-round.”
Ronan will continue to improve his flock and “will continue to bring to the market the best of what is out there”.
“What I love to see is our offspring popping up in catalogues the following year at big sales as service sires or your flock’s bloodlines.”
“You get a huge sense of satisfaction seeing your offspring used in some high-profile sheep flocks; it speaks volumes.”
“I am a firm believer in letting your stock do the talking no matter what it is.”
“In five years, I would like to have a good firm repetition that stock goes on and breeds for people.”
“Seeing my prefix spread throughout the breed would be something that would speak a thousand words for me.”
Future of sheep farming
Ronan shared his view on the future of Irish sheep farming.
“Sheep farming is definitely going from strength to strength. People that are maybe having it as a sideline, it is very much manageable.”
“Obviously, the support you can see through marts and factories from a commercial point of view is at a place where I am not sure it was ever there before.”
“People are fit to make something off it. At the moment, there is no sign of that slowing down.”
“This leads to the commercial end where it encourages you to breed a really high-end replacement female, which there is also a lucrative market for.”
“All of this put together provide all the signs of the breeding flocks at the moment looking sustainable.”
“Let’s hope we can maintain that level of support from marts and factories; that the demand is there.”
“I 100% think sheep farming is doing people well at the moment,” the owner of Ballyboe Suffolks concluded.
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To share your story like Ballyboe Suffolks, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]