In this week’s sheep farming segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Philip Byrne from Limepark Suffolks. He discusses lambing in a 5-6-day window, his passion for genetics, breeding progeny to 11,000gns, and his outlook on Irish sheep farming.
Philip Byrne is a part-time pedigree Suffolk breeder from Windgap, County Kilkenny, who grew up on a dairy farm.
The owner of Limepark Suffolks previously farmed pedigree Charolais cattle under the Cherrymount prefix and owns Philip Byrne Camera Systems.
His passion for pedigree breeding stemmed from visiting fellow Tipperary sheep breeder, Alfard Sweetman, and exploring the show circuit with his then newborn son, Pádraig.
“In 2015, I started off buying three ewe lambs from Susan O’Keefe’s Clyda Pedigree sheep flock in Mallow, County Cork,” Phillip Byrne told That’s Farming.
“The first foundation female I purchased went on to breed Limepark Touch the Stars, who sold for 11,000 gns to Jimmy Douglas of the Cairness flock in Scotland. This was the first lamb to be born in my flock.”
“Every year, I tried to buy from the best female lines from individual flocks.”
“In 2017, I bought a granddaughter of prolific ewe L30 and her first lamb, Limepark Las Vegas, who went on to become the reserve champion, Irish homebred sire, in 2018.”
“In addition, to the novice champion in 2020, who Strathisa Speed has sired,”
“I did initially stay directly buying from the O’Keeffe family in their female sale. Then, I studied the best maternal lines in the flock with the objective of buying females from consistent lines.”
Why Suffolk sheep?
Philip outlined why he chose the breed and characteristics he seeks in his Suffolk sheep.
“Maternal traits have been the primary reason for choosing Suffolk originally. The Suffolk breed is the foundation of a lot of good commercial breeding flocks in Ireland.”
“There was a good market, and they are probably the most established breed in the country.”
“The Suffolk breed covers from a maternal sire and terminal traits, so that is why I initially went for them above anything else.”
“I strive to breed a sheep with tight skin, good clean colours, and fleshing ability.”
Lambing starts around December 20th’ on Philip’s farm and ewes go out to grass during the day and are in at night aided by a lambing camera.
“Most pedigree farmers will lamb around Christmas or the first week in January. The simple reason is they have ram lambs at a level of maturity by the time the breeding season comes in at August, September, and October.”
“It suits me workwise – that I am lambing over a holiday period then as it is part-time.”
All ewes are sponged, and AI’d to give Philip a 5-to-6-day lambing window. Some of the most influential sires he has used to date include Cairness Achievement, Strathisla Speed, and Muirton One Direction.
“I used embryo transfer (ET) on several occasions. Although it is an expensive approach of breeding, it can be a great way of getting additional lambs on the ground from your top ewes.”
“I keep the best of the female progeny for breeding. Then, after that, I will sell the rest of them.”
The flock also obtained some notable prices at Suffolk premier sales.
These successes included in 2017, achieving €11,000 followed by €1,200 in 2018, obtaining €3,000 in 2018, €1,600 in 2020 and gaining €7,500 and €1,400.
Phillip has sold sheep to the Cairness, Shannagh, Castleisla, Limestone, Crewlands, Barrowlands, and Curley Hill flocks.
“I was delighted in 2019 to sell a ewe lamb to Mark Priestley’s Limestone flock, which is considered one of the top flocks in the breed.”
The most enjoyable part of farming is the “friends you make out showing and selling your sheep” in Philip’s view.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, you would be showing every second weekend. I would normally exhibit at the Tullow Show, Tinahely Show, Clonmel Show, and Suffolk premier sale shows.”
“Genetics are what I enjoy the most about sheep farming and researching family lines. The maternal side is probably the most important; your ewe is 70% of your lamb.”
“The most important thing is to start with a very good genetic ewe line,” the owner of Limepark Suffolks added.
“To reflect on sheep farming, I have made friends and look forward to ewes lambing, selecting rams, and possibilities for next year what is going to come for the season.”
“My passion for livestock came from my mother, Marie Byrne. Sadly she was not there to share the many successes since she passed away in 2011.”
Advice for pedigree breeders
Philip shared advice for aspiring pedigree sheep breeders.
“If anybody were getting into sheep initially, I would be suggesting they go off, get previous sale catalogues, yearbooks, and study individual ewe lines to make sure they purchase from proven breeding lines.”
“I think that is the key and the most important thing anyone could do.”
“Decent handling facilities and fencing takes the majority of challenges out of sheep farming on a day-to-day basis.”
An economic lift
Philip intends to continue buying one additional breeding ewe annually for his 6-acre farm, keep a 25-ewe flock, and develop breeding lines.
The Kilkenny sheep farmer hopes to exhibit at society sales in Lanark and Ballymena in the future.
“I would probably not do a great deal different if I could turn back the clock. If I am entirely honest, I am probably one of the most fortunate people to get into sheep.”
Philip outlined his thoughts on the future of sheep farming.
“There is a great economic lift around sheep farming at the moment. So, if prices sustain where they are at the moment, there is money out of sheep.”
“The cost of getting into sheep and maintaining a sheep farm is significantly lower than cattle. Therefore, it is far more cost-effective to run a sheep farm with reduced expensive infrastructure and machinery.”
View on agriculture
He shared his thoughts on the future of Ireland’s agricultural sector.
“China is consuming a lot of lamb from New Zealand/Australia, and if that continues to be the case, the market for lamb in Ireland should hold its own.”
“My income is not directly from sheep farming. It is primarily from my electrical camera system business, but this is primarily based in the agricultural sector,” the Suffolk Sheep Society PRO concluded.
To share your story like Limepark Suffolks, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]