“Factories are extremely anxious for lambs and have told agents to let nothing slip by”. That was music to sheep farmers’ ears from IFA National Sheep Chairman Sean Dennehy earlier this week, but what’s the reality on the ground? Dan Dooner visited Eugene Hanley’s farm near Creggs to find out how local sheep farmers are holding up following the recent harsh weather
Eugene is 36 years of age and is married to Karen from Co. Down. The couple moved to Creggs to take over the Hanley family farm from Eugene’s father in 2014. They had been in Dublin where Eugene had graduated from college and found work in the IT sector.
Whereas Eugene made his living using modern technology in Dublin, life back on the farm is a much more traditional affair.
“I don’t start lambing here until the 1st of April and the reason for that is because it’s all done very simple, and every sheep will lamb outside. Unless there’s something wrong with them, I’d be hoping not to touch them at all. If the weather is good you’d be amazed at how many you won’t even have to touch, just let them go,” he says, gesturing to his flock.
Grey crows are a bigger danger to his sheep than foxes and other local predators, he says, before adding that any poor weather means that this time of year “isn’t for the faint-hearted”.
“We’d be very basic here, we wouldn’t have very modern sheds or things like that so we lamb them a little bit later. We’d have some horney sheep as well, 70 or 80, and we keep their daughters so that they are the main mothers of the flock. They’re very tough and they can survive a night or two of harshness if they have to.
“I’ll be driving around here all night in two weeks’ time because there will be three or four foxes running around the field here, it’s bizarre to see. If a dog came into the field they’d go crazy and run towards a corner but a fox is able to come in and just prance around them. The horney sheep are way better because they’d attack the fox. The fox has a bad name but they’re not the worst, it’s the crows that you have to watch for”.
Eugene says that in spite of Mr. Dennehy’s announcement ahead of Easter, there is still hard work to be done and nothing can be taken for granted.
“It’s very hard to forecast for us because there are so many factors now. We think of just Ireland sometimes and if the weather is good and you have a lot of lambs (that it’s a good year). It’s global now though so things like if there’s a drought in Australia or New Zealand and they might have two million less lambs to export…it’s very difficult to know.
“I think the sheep over the last three or four years have been reasonably steady, which isn’t too bad. Obviously it’s still a modest enough income but still, it’s reasonably predictable. If there are spikes and lows it’s much harder.
“At the moment, they’re on about lambs being €6 per kg now which would be good, but then again they are all last year’s lambs which would have been expensive to keep this long.
“I’d have my lambs a little later and would be selling them at about 35 to 40kg to another farmer who would finish them to the factory standard.
“I’d be looking at the prices now and saying that the prices are very good. I’d be hoping that the guys I sold lambs to last November get a good price so that they’d be coming back, whereas if they weren’t getting the price then it could affect me,” Eugene concluded.