In this week’s sheep farmer segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Jonathan Kenny, Co Galway. He discusses continuing a long-standing farming tradition, running nine rams, selecting DNA-tested sires, rising input costs and his farm plans.
Johnathan Kenny from Cloughbrack, Clonbur, County Galway, farms 300 Mayo Blackface ewes and 10 pedigree Texel sheep on 400-acres of owned land.
He established Cloughbrack Mountainies seven years ago by purchasing lambs from his father and acquiring sheep from Deerveeney Livestock at the Mayo Mountain Blackface Sheep Breeders annual sale.
He continues to invest in new bloodlines through society sales.
“The ground we have here is all mountainy, and Mayo Blackface sheep are best suited to the hill. They do not need as much care as lowland sheep,” Johnathan Kenny, who works full-time as an electrician with ECC Timber Products, told That’s Farming.
“They are a lot healthier out in the mountain instead of being out in the lowland. They are best suited for around here.”
“Sheep farming has always been a family tradition, and I have been at it since I was a couple of days old. It has been in the generation before me and before that and hopefully, the generation after that as well.”
He established Cloughbrack Texels two years ago by investing in females at the Western Region Texel Club sale in Roscommon and at the Irish Texel Sheep Society Premier Show and Sale in Blessington from Derrylahan Texels and Recess Texels.
Johnathon strives to breed a sheep with a good mouth, good colouration and good conformation.
Galway sheep farmer
Jonathan uses seven Mayo Blackface rams, including Bunmore Landy, Joyce, Kilbride Tom, Moneenmore Jim, Baile Mheiricea Harry, Cloughbrack Ego, and Hilltop Joe.
He utilises 50% UK semen on his Texel flock through AI and runs a Lanmore ER ram on the remainder of the flock.
He selects DNA-tested sires for his Mayo Blackface sheep and registers his ewes with Sheep Ireland.
“We let out the Mayo Blackface rams around November 10th, and we let our Texel rams out in the middle of August.”
“We pull in the rams in the middle of January, but there is an odd one that does not come in until scanning time. We normally scan the Mayo Blackface ewes on February 1st and the Texel sheep before Christmas.”
“We sponge all the Texel sheep, but we do not do this on any of the Mayo blackface sheep as that is natural.”
His Texel sheep commence lambing on February 1st, with Mayo Blackface Sheep starting to arrive on April 1st, mainly in an indoor system.
He uses an ETI Security lambing camera to assist with the period.
“It gives us a better chance with ground conditions lambing around that period. We do not bring in all the Mayo Mountain ewes for lambing.”
“We lamb a few in the shed, but some of the ewes lamb out in the mountains. They are looked at but are not herded in. We like to get our Texel flock done around that period because they take a bit of care.”
The Galway-based farm retains 60-70 Mayo Blackface ewe lambs and three Texel females. He sells the remainder of ewes on-farm or at society sales around 5-6 months old.
The farm sells its Mayo Blackface store rams during the summer off-farm or in Maam Cross Mart or Ballinrobe Mart.
He sells his Texel ram lambs on-farm or at the mart during September and October.
“Ewe lambs average between €90-€110, and a few of the ram hoggets could range from €600-€1,100. The costs can vary very much, but I have had no stand-out achievement yet.”
“This year was great as lamb prices were up as buyers wanted lambs. It was also a good year because everyone wanted them, so there was good enough demand this year.”
“There seems to be good enough demand for the Mayo Mountain Blackface sheep.”
Johnathan has a strict culling policy and sells the ewes that are 5-6-year-old at his local mart.
Artificial fertiliser prices impact Johnathon, and he said he would have to utilise slurry on his silage ground this year – due to these price hikes
“Fertiliser and meal costs are going up in cost. Everything is going up in price and the expense of this year is a lot more than previous years.”
“Fertiliser prices have doubled, and meal prices are nearly €400/t; last year, you would get it for €350/t. It is going up and up in price.”
The Westport Macra Na Feirme member attended shows before the Covid-19 pandemic in Mayo, Galway, and Tipperary and plans to resume exhibiting stock this summer.
“I won classes in all ages from ewes lambs to ram lambs, from to ewe hoggets to ram hoggets and from age lambs to age ewes.”
Johnathon advised aspiring pedigree breeders to buy the best quality at the start regarding ewes and rams and work their way up the ladder.
“If you start at a reasonable enough place, it is easy enough to come up, but if you start way down, it is more of a challenge to come up.”
Johnathon aims to use the best females and rams and start ET work in the flock.
He plans to increase his Mayo Mountain ewe flock to 400 ewes and expand to 20 Texel sheep.
“I like to bring up the breed’s quality and standards as much as I can and update my technology for weighing lambs. We try our best each year to make farm improvements.”
“In five years, I see myself with more red rosettes, and maybe, I might have sold a ram for a reasonable price.”
“I hope in years to come, more farmers will be buying a pedigree ram from me that is star-rated, and they will know his bloodlines.”
“It might make it easier for them to put a ram in practice, but it is going to take a while.”
Future of Irish sheep farming
The Irish Texel Sheep Society and Mayo Blackface Group member shared his view on the future of Irish sheep farming.
“I hope sheep farming is a viable business, but I believe an off-farm job is very important, really.”
“I hope to see to more young people like myself farming. I hope there is more of these people around this part of the country.”
“I see a good enough future in sheep farming. However, I think sheep prices might increase more for the blackface ewes, and they will get more expensive.”
“2021 was an exceptional year for sheep prices, and lamb prices are still up. We are being rewarded for our sheep, but the way input costs are going, it is getting more expensive,” the Galway sheep farmer concluded.
To share your story like this Galway sheep farmer, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]
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