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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Blue Texel rams will always be our number one choice for putting on ewe lambs’ – 900-ewe farmer

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Frank Fagan. The 900-ewe farmer discusses his family farm history, his experience with Blue Texels and how using Blue Texel rams on ewe lambs could be a beneficial option for more farmers.  

“I am Frank Fagan, a 30-year-old farming outside Oldcastle, Co. Meath, alongside my father, John.

I am the fourth generation to farm here in Cairnbawn, and today, we lamb over 900 commercial ewes and keep a small number of cattle alongside the flock.

I am full-time farming at home, and I am involved in managing 1,500 ewes for a neighbouring farm. My father is still involved in running the farm and is a factory agent for Irish Country Meats, Navan.

I have a great interest in breeding our own replacements and constantly improving the flock. My father would have farmed a lot of hill sheep, and we built up numbers that way.

We eventually started breeding our own replacements, and nowadays, all our sheep are Texel-cross ewes.

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I have strived to improve our ewe type, and we run a closed flock, only buying in rams, to try and prevent bringing in disease and other issues.

We run Texel rams and, more recently, EasyCare and Blue Texels on Texel-cross ewes. The aim is to keep a white-faced medium-sized ewe that is self-replacing and produces a tight wool, well-shaped lamb for the factory, stores and ewe lambs for breeding to other farms.

Blue Texels

We like to produce lambs suitable for all markets. Recently, we ventured into Blue Texels, sourcing rams from Francis and Jennifer Donohoe of the Johnstown Flock in Co. Westmeath.

We used Blue Texels rams on our ewe lambs, and this year, we lambed over 200 ewe lambs.

By using the Blue Texel, we have found them to be very easy lambing. Lambs were born hardy and were great to get up and suckle. To be honest, we have never had such fewer issues lambing ewe lambs since we started with this breed.

We had very few ewe lambs that required assistance at lambing. We liked the idea of using Blue Texels as you still get a well-shaped U grade lamb from a hogget without any lambing difficulty.

This year, Blue Texel-cross lambs made €3.50-€4.00/kg liveweight, as stores which we were delighted with.

Blue Texel rams will always be our number one choice for putting on ewe lambs.

I think anyone who is lambing their ewe lambs should try the Blue Texel. We were using other breeds and would not go back.

Why Blue Texel?

  • Fertile rams;
  • Easy lambing – Suitable for ewe lambs;
  • Very hardy – Up and suckle without help;
  • Produce uniform, consistent batches of lambs;
  • Exceptional carcass traits – Top grades – high kill outs – in-spec weights.

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Lambing season

We lamb all sheep indoors on plastic slats and find them to be a very hygienic choice for lambing

We lamb from mid-March to mid-April to match grass growth and aim to not feed meal to ewes once out at grass.

Moreover, we house all ewes by the first week of December, so there is a great sward of grass saved for lambing time.

Last year, we lambed 700 ewes lamb within 15 days, which is the norm for most years.

We manage lambing season with just ourselves and my partner, Ciara, who is a great help. To manage an enterprise of this scale, we need sheep that do not give us much trouble during this busy time.

The way we sell our lambs varies year to year. Ewe lambs that we do not retain as replacements are mostly sold out of the yard privately.

If the store trade is good, we will sell some at this stage, but we will always finish a large proportion for the factory.

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The bottom line

I really enjoy trying to breed the perfect ewe and breed sheep that are easily farmed in large numbers.

To be a successful sheep farmer, you need to like sheep, have good fencing and an adequate way of handling them.

To be viable, you need to produce as many lambs per acre for as little euro as possible. It is a numbers game, really.

Unfortunately, rising costs are not helping the situation, and prices received this year have not reflected the raised production costs. If this continues, there will be no viable farming sector, and then food scarcity will be the issue.


Improving the farm and facilities

Our goal is to run a profitable farm and keep improving the farm and facilities for the future.

Future plans for the farm are to keep improving the flock and be as efficient as possible. Improving fencing and more reseeding will be the main focus here.

I think farming is going through a very difficult time now, with the rising costs and blame put on us for greenhouse gases.

Hopefully, the general public will soon realise how important agriculture is for the economy and the environment.

The government should focus on how carbon neutral our farms are as every farm enterprise is sequestering so much carbon.

Instead, we are getting the blame for methane emissions, as agriculture is the easy target. Without agriculture in this country, the economy would fall apart, and it is about time the government realised this.”


Sale this Saturday

The Irish Blue Texel Society will hold its second society sale of the year at Athenry Mart, in conjunction with Mart Eye, on Saturday, September 17th, 2022.

A “large” selection of shearling rams and ram lambs and shearing ewes and ewe lambs (Blue Texel and Dassenkop) are catalogued for the sale.

Another Irish Blue Texel Sheep Society Sale will take place at Carnew Mart on September 30th, 2022.

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