That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with sheep farmer, Tony Hanly (33) in this week’s sheep farming segment.
“In 2009, after years of working and helping on farms, I decided I was going to give it a go myself, and I have never looked back.
I am a first-generation farmer on this holding, originally from and living in Herbertstown, County Limerick.
My earliest farming memories revolve around rearing calves and feeding pet lambs.
I had an interest in farming from a young age and am the youngest of nine siblings.
The other eight are a good bit older than me, and one brother worked on a local farm where I used to help him.
He had an interest himself then and started rearing calves at home.
Meanwhile, one of my sisters married a sheep and beef farmer, so I spent my school holidays with them, and that is where my interest in sheep began.
So, as far back as I can remember, I have had an interest in farming. There is an acre of ground with the cottage I grew up in, where I have a small yard and some sheds, so I rent everything else, including 23-acres.
Now, I am a part-time farmer, running the Herbertstown Flock, and I work full-time in the construction industry.
I farm alongside my wife, Katie, with help from our three daughters: Grainne, Caoimhe and Therese.
We have pedigree Suffolk and Charollais ewes and plan on venturing into Texels this year.
With the latter, I am looking to breed high-quality rams and ewes that will produce good quality lambs with a good carcass, size, and weight coupled with ease of lambing.
Regarding my chosen breeds, as a pedigree breeder, I find they are a popular choice of ram, plus I run these with some commercial ewes.
I find both breeds give good carcass size and weight and easy finish also. Working full-time off-farm, I find Charollais especially good for their ease of lambing.
Well, with branching into the pedigree side of it, it looked like it was going to be an expensive change to get good bloodlines and good quality stock.
I was fortunate enough to come across a breeder who would sell me pet ewe lambs which worked out well and slightly cheaper.
They have also advised me on what to do as I started out and have been buying my ewes from him for four years this year.
Lambing and progeny
Currently, there are 20 breeding ewes and 2 rams as I am gradually reducing commercial sheep numbers to go completely pedigree. Also, there are 12 cattle as part of a calf-to-beef enterprise.
I lamb pedigrees in January and February (as I sponge ewes) and commercials at the end of March, all indoors to have progeny on time for ram sales.
Currently, I do not utilise cameras to assist with lambing season, but I am constructing a new shed and will install one there.
I slaughter my commercial progeny in factories or sell to local butchers. For me, seeing new lambs in pens enables me to see that the hard work is paying off, as does walking through the stock on a summer evening.
Honestly, my biggest challenge is the bookwork as I was never one for the books in school or now, but I manage all the same.
Due to Covid-19’s impact on the agricultural show calendar, I have not had a chance to exhibit any of my pedigree lambs as they first arrived in 2020.
There have been no shows since due to Covid-19, so the closest I got were shows and sales.
Between sales and meeting other breeders, coupled with shearing, which I started in recent times, I have met so many different people that way.
I would have to say the highlight would be the friends I have made within the industry.
Extreme patients and a willingness to work hard are needed to succeed in sheep farming. If you enjoy and want it, go for it as it is a really enjoyable part of the agricultural industry.
If I could turn back the clock, I would have done an agricultural course and got into pedigrees sooner.
Expansion and 100% pedigree breeding
Once I introduce Texels to the farm, I plan on building numbers in all three breeds in the hope of running up to 60 ewes in my long-term plan, all going well
In five years, I hope to be fully established with repeat custom from clients for rams.
In terms of sheep farming’s viability, there are some with big numbers that make it viable, but for myself, on such a small scale, it was not.
That is why I made the jump to pedigreed in the hope it would be viable, but it is early days in that venture, so time will tell.
I made the jump into pedigrees because I refuse to get out of sheep. Some will tell me I am mad, but that is my preference.
Well, at the moment, sheep prices are fairly good, but it is a market that can drop as quickly as it rises and for a number of years.
Wool prices have been low, so like any industry, the challenges lie in trying to make it pay.
My ultimate goal would be to farm full-time, but I cannot see that happening.
Honestly, I do not know with the way the world is changing, but hopefully, the future of farming is bright.”
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