JUNE 2018 www.irishfarmersmonthly.com Sheep Focus Forward-thinking sheep farming This year’s Irish Grassland Association sheep event visited John Large’s sheep farm, which straddles the Kilkenny-Tipperary border. The home farm is located on the outskirts of Gortnahoe village and is the base for a busy sheep and suckler beef system. The farm also encompasses a further two blocks of ground that add up to an 80 hectare operation, writes Matt O’Kee e John has always adopted a progressive approach to new initiatives helping to drive the sheep industry forward. He has one of the central progeny test (CPT) flocks working with Sheep Ireland and was one of the original participants in the programme when it began back in 2010. This wasn’t John’s first venture into helping breed improvement. Previously, he participated in a number of Teagasc on-farm ram evaluation trials. Aside from breeding initiatives, John has embraced the grazing challenge, having previously also hosted one of the Grass10 programme sheep walks. Away from the farm, John also sits on the board of Sheep Ireland as a farmer representative. Sheep system artificially inseminated. This process takes place in two phases in mid-October, with a two-day interval between each. In total, four different ram breeds – Texel, Suffolk, Charollais and Belclare – were used on the flock. Following the round of artificial insemination (AI), the ewes are divided into three groups and natural service is used, with rams being introduced to cover the repeats. The replacement ewe lambs on the farm are also joined with the ram, which will coincide with the repeats from the AI in the mature ewe flock. A key focus on the farm has been to ensure these lambs are well grown prior to mating, aiming to reach a target weight of 48kg at joining. These ewe lambs are joined for two cycles with all rams on the farm being removed by the start of December, enabling the lambing to be wrapped up by early April. The focus on ensuring ewes reach target has been paying dividends, pregnancy rates for the group this year are 86.5 per cent, with those pregnant carrying, on average, 1.24 lambs. Intensive data recording at lambing The sheep system makes up the main part of the farming enterprise, running a closed flock that comprises 630 mature ewes and 160 ewe lambs that are also joined. Stocked at approximately 12 ewes per hectare (ha), with all progeny excluding replacements taken to finish, this is a high-output system. As part of the CPT programme, all the mature ewes are With so many ewes lambing in such a compact period, the start of March is a busy time on the farm. Extra staff are drafted in for lambing, with Sheep Ireland technicians also present at this time to help record a variety of information on both ewe and lamb performance. All progeny from the AI rams are tagged and recorded at birth, and their performance and health data are recorded throughout the season. A selection of female progeny from each of the sires used is retained for breeding, enabling the capture of maternal data. This information is recorded in the Sheep Ireland database and forms part of the genetic evaluations 37