In this week’s sheep farming segment, That’s Farming talks to Flor Ryan, owner of Lawn Flock. We discuss Ryans Texels, building a reputable foundation flock, and thoughts for the future of sheep farming.
Venturing into Texel sheep at the tender age of sixteen has, with Flor Ryan’s vision, determination and foresight, culminated in over thirty-five years’ sheep breeding experience and three pedigree flocks.
As a child, he lived in Cork until his family decided to transfer their farming enterprise to Co. Kildare, where he now calls home.
In the 1970s, the Ryan family was involved in the potato business alongside drystock production.
During school holidays, he bought and sold sheep, an interest which purchasing his first Texels from Lyons Estate in Maynooth Livestock Mart sparked.
Following this, in 1987, Flor expanded his flock by sourcing another five females and two rams from a local pedigree sale.
Flor now runs his flock over 150-acres of prime land, and in addition to Lawn Flock, the Ryan family operate two more successful Texel breeding enterprises. Flor’s niece, Jacki, owns Rotsee, while his brother, William, owns Graigues Texels.
Jacki, the owner of Rotsee, is a veterinary nurse based overseas who returns to her roots in Co. Kildare for peak times such as lambing and sales.
The Ryans have been successfully producing Texel sheep of the highest quality since 1987, and before this, Flor ran a commercial flock comprising 600 ewes.
“We decided to commence our Texel breeding enterprise in 1987,” he tells That’s Farming.
“Texels stood out to me as having a very lean carcass and were a lovely cross with the Suffolk.”
“When we began, there were more premiums for lambs from butchers, as well as the factory trade. Furthermore, the Texels are a cleaner breed.”
“Texels have a natural resistance to worms, which makes a huge difference in conjunction with labour inputs.”
Flor analyses characteristics such as muscling, length, skin and correctness when sourcing additional stock for the Lawn Flock.
Furthermore, to source foundation stock, Flor bought a large number of ewes to begin with from “highly reputable” flocks in Ireland.
In the first year, he bought mainly ewe lambs, and built up the flock from there. But, his focus has now switched to retaining his own females.
“As I have been retaining a lot of my own breeding, the amount of replacements I have been purchasing has reduced. In 2011, I bought my last ewe.”
“I bought the ewe from a dispersal sale which cleared the flock of a dear friend of mine, who unfortunately was unwell. At the time, and to date, she was the highest priced ewe I have ever bought.”
“However, in the long run, she has turned out to be the cheapest. This ewe brought the flock’s bloodlines to a completely new level.”
In 2017, Flor sold a daughter from this ewe, which was bought by a highly reputable flock in England.
“The daughter went on to produce progeny making in the region of 65-40k.£
“It is absolutely wonderful to see her bloodlines doing so well and to know my stock have contributed to such a success.”
Flor’s farm is already a busy place in spring, with mares foaling, and managing an off-farm job, so lambing really adds to the busy season.
“Our scanning rates generally are around 1.8, there or thereabouts. In addition to this, we purchase our stock rams from either the Blessington or Tullamore premier sale.”
“Lambing commences in March and is completed by the end of April. The reason we lamb during this period is to correspond with grass growth.”
“We operate an intensive lambing system, whereby we plan to have 90% of our ewes lambed within a two-week period. This works well for us; we aim to have a simple system.”
“We utilise a teaser and remove the ram after 17 days. The ram then returns three weeks later for the April lambing batch.”
“Ewes are out during the day and are brought into the sheds at night. Honestly, this is for convenience for us on the night shift.”
“In the last two years, we have also utilised cameras in the lambing shed for peace of mind.”
With a natural mating procedure for the pedigree ewes, some of Flor’s top-performing ewes undergo an embryo transfer programme.
“We aim to flush about six ewes every year. We analyse our top-performing ewes using Sheep Ireland.”
“As the years have passed by, demand for ewes with five-star is soaring. The sales have proved this for us; ewes with the higher star rating are more popular in the ring.”
Every year, Lawn Flock retains in the region of 40 to 50 ewe lambs as replacements, choosing carefully his highest quality stock, to build on the family’s reputation in the Texel market.
They do not sell their ram lambs and operate a shearling business, selling both males and females at this stage.
Ryan strives to breed a shearling with muscle and shape, a lighter head and ease of lambing.
In Ryan’s view, to be a successful sheep breeder, you must have “serious” attention to detail.
“I suggest you get the small things right, and everything else will fall into shape,” he comments.
“However, the last year has seen dramatic changes to the agricultural industry as a whole, and inputs are becoming a huge challenge across many enterprises.”
“As funny as it seems, after all these years, the most enjoyable aspect of farming for me is still lambing season.”
“With newborns arriving, and everything being a bit more planned and organised, I really enjoy it.”
“In general, I am not a huge man for fertiliser or meal feeding. Sheep farming, for me, is a bit more extensive, and I am obviously not faced with inputs as high as those involved in the dairy industry. Despite this, it is something I am still aware of.”
Moreover, he focuses on clover growth, ensuring his grassland is appropriately managed and its pH is correct.
“I like to let my land function naturally, without the copious inputs of artificial fertiliser,” he reveals.
“I am an advocate for putting in extra clover and topping up with white clover. The last ten years, I have focused on having my pH right, and I have realised that clover will not grow otherwise. A pH of 6.3 to 6.5 is optimal for clover growth.”
“In addition to this, move your sheep regularly; I find that sheep go stale without a regular grazing rotation.”
“When working, I try to make things more simple. I have always loved sheep, and Texels are very easy to work with.”
Flor concludes, “if there are any young people interested in entering the sheep industry, I think go for it”.
“I have made tremendous friends over the years through attending shows, sales and meetings, both in Ireland and across the waters. You truly make memories which last a lifetime,” he concludes.
To share your story like this flock, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]
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