Fergal and Sean McDermott, a father and son duo, farm in Redhills, County Cavan. Sean has been farming in the Lakeland county all his life with son Fergal getting more involved in the running of the farm in 2014. Up until 2015, the farm consisted of roughly 50 top quality Limousin suckling cows that ran with Charolais bulls. At that time, calves born on the farm were sold as weanlings through local cattle marts, achieving many top prices.
As son Fergal got more involved in the running of the farm, a big decision was made by both to sell the suckling cows and go down the route of breeding ewes along with developing a poultry enterprise on the farm. The first batch of ewes arrived in 2015. The choice of ewes were mule and Lleyn for their good mothering ability and hardiness. Initially three Charollais rams were purchased locally to run with them for the breeding season and Charollais rams have remained ever since.
The farm is currently stocked with 400 breeding females. The majority of replacements are bred on farm from Charollais, Lleyn and Suftex rams that are bred back to the mule and Lleyn ewes. Rams are turned out to the ewes on 24th October for lambing in late march. Previously, lambing was earlier but with increasing ewe numbers, the decision was made to push the lambing date outby three weeks to coincide with grass growth. Lambing usually lasts for roughly four weeks with the majority of ewes lambing within the first fourteen days. Ewe lambs are bred along with the main flock to lamb down at the same time. Charollais rams are used to serve the ewe lambs along with 35% of the main flock.
Ewes are housed one week prior to lambing and are turned out within 24 hours of giving birth. The intensity of the lambing period means that Charllaois cross lambs are their mothers are turned out despite weather conditions. The pair commented on how easy the ewe lambs lamb down to the Charollais rams, how lambs are lively at birth and up to suck without delay.
Replacement strategy on the farm is very simple. All twin born ewe lambs, despite breed of sire, are notched at birth once they were out of a ewe that gives no trouble at lambing and had lots of milk to rear two lambs. This said, Charollais cross ewes still make up the majority of replacement ewes as they perform year on year when it comes to mothering, milking ability and prolificy.
The remainder of the lambs on the farm are sold through a producer group for slaughter. Sean commented on the easy fleshing ability and fast growth rates of the Charollais crossed lamb. Fergal says that lambs have to be weighed weekly during the summer as the Charollais crossed lambs go over weight very quickly. They weigh like lead when it comes to kill out percentage. I’m rarely let down when getting the factory kill sheet back he added. He noted that the majority of lambs in the first batch for slaughter are out of the Charollais ram. His Charollais lambs grade us with a small fraction of them grading R’s with fat content never being an issue.
Both Sean & Fergal are happy with their ewe selection and furthermore, their ram selection. The system is working well in terms of breeding prime fat lambs along with suitable replacements for the flock and they have no plans to change from using Charollais rams for both terminal and maternal sires into the future