Organic sheep: Pocket €145/head for the lambs

A short housing period, low-input finish and a premium for organic lamb are key to profitability for certified organic farmer, Fergal Byrne.

As previously covered by It’s farming, he runs a mixed business and feels the sheep “fit in well” with his thriving cattle ranching and tillage businesses.

For him, the main reason for maintaining a sheep business is to provide a “steadier” cash flow over the calendar year.

The current herd numbers 230 ewes including 25 lambs. The ewes are mostly crossbred, with a combination of Leicester-cross-Texel-cross-Suffolk being the most common cross within the flock.

Additionally, there are also several Cheviot and Kerry Hill ewes in the flock.

He currently runs Texel, Blue Texel and Hampshire Down rams with the main herd. On the other hand, two Galway rams run with lambs.

He told attendees they are “very” easy to lamb and are also “very good” for the quality of their wool, for which Fergal has a unique outlet through Yarns and Vibes in Cork. He supplies organic wool and the company sells the wool in the form of yarn.

Organic sheep farm

The main key messages to remember about his herd:

  • Introduced rams to the herd in early October for breeding;
  • Scans ewes at approximately 80 days of gestation;
  • Lambing begins in early March;
  • Shearing takes place in June;
  • Performs faecal egg counts on ewes twice a year and lambs in September and after Christmas;
  • Worm dose given only if egg count is high and after receiving veterinarian approval;
  • Administers Clostridial disease vaccines as recommended;
  • The lambs receive mineral supplementation of cobalt and vitamin 12;
  • Supplement ewes twice with cobalt before and during mating;
  • Usually houses sheep in early January;
  • Will rehouse any ewes that are not thriving on grass after two weeks post release – usually results in the rehousing of around 20 ewes. He says it is “the key” to keeping sheep mortality “very low”.
  • Sheep target specific weeds, making them an ideal addition to the beef business.

Diet

  • Mixed diet of hay and red clover/oat silage mix;
  • 1 ton of organic ration to feed the ewes before lambing. This is the total amount of flour he buys for the sheep;
  • All receive mineral supplementation during the indoor period via salt licks;
  • Turn the ewes out to grass while they are lambing;
  • In the spring of 2022, they also grazed the soil with red clover silage.

Organic sheep farm sales

  • Lambs sold from mid-June to March;
  • Typically weighs 20 kg dead weight;
  • Average price of €145 for lambs in 2021;
  • Two main markets for its 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 20kg lamb and be paid for the full weight than have a 23-24kg lamb and not be paid for the last 1-2kg”.
The bottom line

According to Teagasc, his costs for the lamb business amount to €51 per lamb sold.

Teagasc’s work shows that the variable costs of fodder (hay & silage), veterinarian and straw amount to €8.

Fixed costs for insurance, professional fees, car, telephone, electricity, machine operation and land lease amount to €43/lamb sold.

When the production costs are compared to the €145 price he receives, it makes it “one of the most profitable ventures” on Fergal’s farm.