A short housing period, low input finishing and a premium for organic lamb are key to profitability for certified organic farmer, Fergal Byrne.
As previously covered by That’s Farming, he runs a mixed enterprise and feels that sheep “fit in well” with his thriving beef and tillage enterprises.
For him, the primary reason for maintaining a sheep enterprise is to provide a “more even” cash flow over the calendar year.
The current flock comprises 230 ewes, including 25 ewe lambs. Ewes are mostly cross-bred, with a combination of Leicester-cross-Texel-cross-Suffolk being the most common cross within the flock.
Furthermore, there are also several Cheviot and Kerry Hill ewes within the flock.
He currently runs Texel, Blue Texel, and Hampshire Down rams with the main flock. On the other hand, two Galway rams run with ewe lambs.
He told attendees that they are “very” easy lambing and are also “very good” for their wool quality, for which Fergal has a unique outlet through Yarns and Vibes in Cork. He supplies organic wool, and the business sells the wool as yarn.
Organic Sheep Farm
The main key take-home messages about his flock:
- Introduces rams to the flock in early October for breeding;
- Scans ewes at approximately 80 days gestation;
- Lambing begins in early March;
- Shearing takes place in June;
- Carries out faecal egg counts on ewes twice annually and lambs, in September and after Christmas;
- Worm dose only given if egg count is high, and after receiving veterinary approval;
- Administers vaccines for clostridial diseases in accordance with the recommendations;
- Lambs receive mineral supplementation of Cobalt and Vitamin 12;
- Supplements ewes twice with Cobalt before and during mating;
- Typically houses sheep in early January;
- Will re-house any ewes not thriving on grass after two weeks post-turnout – usually results in re-housing approximately 20 ewes. He says this is “key” to maintaining a “very low” ewe mortality.
- Sheep target specific weeds making them an ideal complement to the cattle enterprise.
- Mixed diet of hay and red clover/oat silage mix;
- 1ton of organic ration to feed to ewes pre-lambing. This is the total amount of meal he purchases for ewes;
- All receive mineral supplementation during the indoor period via mineral licks;
- Turn out ewes to grass as they lamb;
- In spring 2022, they also grazed the red clover silage ground.
Sales from the organic sheep farm
- Lambs sold from mid-June to March;
- Typically weigh 20kgs deadweight;
- Average price of €145 for lambs in 2021;
- Two main markets for his lamb: Mulhalls of Coolanowle Organic Meats and ICM (Irish Country Meats) based in Camolin, Co. Wexford.
- Fergal told attendees that he “would rather have a 20kgs lamb and get paid for the full weight rather than have a 23 – 24kgs lamb and not get paid for the last 1- 2kgs”.
The bottom line
According to Teagasc, his costs for the lamb enterprise work out at €51 per lamb sold.
Teagasc’s workings show that variable costs of forage (hay & silage), veterinary, and straw costs amount to €8.
Fixed costs of insurance, professional fees, car, phone, electricity, machinery running, and land lease amount to €43/lamb sold.
When production costs are put against the price of €145 that he receives, it makes it “one of the more profitable enterprises” on Fergal’s farm.