Sheep farmer with 500 ewe flock target on his financial targets and his outlook for 2019

Philip Higgins with his dog, Pippa,on his farm in Skreen, Co Sligo. Photo by Brian Farrell

Philip Higgins with his dog, Pippa,on his farm in Skreen, Co Sligo. Photo by Brian Farrell


Philip Higgins is the latest farmer to join the Sheep Tech joint venture run by Teagasc in conjunction with Irish Country Meats.

Philip farms a mixed suckler and sheep farm just outside the village of Skreen in Co Sligo where he lives with his wife Amanda, son Jonathan and daughters Naomi and Hannah.

His flock consists of 316 commercial ewes, 29 pedigree Texel ewes and 115 ewe lambs.

He plans to increase ewe numbers to 500 in the next few years.

A  review of the past year’s flock performance from a production and financial position is a good indicator of where things went well, where targets were achieved and where improvements can be made for the coming year.

Last year, Philip Higgins sold 1.50 lambs from the mature ewe flock and 1.0 lambs from his ewe lambs that lambed in 2018.

Philip Higgins on his farm in Skreen, Co Sligo

Philip Higgins on his farm in Skreen, Co Sligo

In a previous article, I outlined the financial targets for Philip Higgins’ sheep enterprise, 160:80:80, €160 of a gross output per ewe with variable costs of €80 resulting in a gross margin of €80 per ewe.

Table 1 outlines the financial performance achieved in 2018. Variable costs were on or just below target at €78 per ewe, gross output per ewe was below target at €136 per ewe, resulting in a gross margin of €58 per ewe. This was achieved by weaning 1.5 lambs per mature ewe and 1.0 lambs per ewe lamb with an average lamb sale value of €102.14 and cull ewe value of €99.60.

To achieve the target gross output per ewe, Philip would have had to wean 1.70 lambs per ewe mated and 1.1 lambs per ewe lamb lambed with no change in stock inventory. The target remains the same for 2019. This year, mature ewes scanned at 1.81 lambs per ewe mated with ewe lambs having a litter size of 1.42.

He says concentrates can be reduced from €32 per ewe to €22 per ewe as fed in 2017 as the spring conditions of 2018 resulted in increased concentrates fed per ewe. “I was happy enough with the average lamb and cull ewe sale values in 2018,” says Philip.

Factory data from all lambs slaughtered in Irish Country Meats Navan through the Sligo/Leitrim Quality Lamb Producer Group are outlined in table 2. All lambs were weighed the morning of sale and were 47.65kg on average and had a kill out the percentage of 43.2pc.

On the Higgins farm, when U grade lambs are compared to R grade lambs at similar live weights, 47.8 v 47.79 kg, and 90pc fat score three the U grade, lambs yielded an extra 1.03kg of carcass due to the higher kill out percentage. This accounted for a difference in price of €5.44 per lamb when adjusted to weight paid on limits.

The price differential was influenced by the high percentage of U grade lambs in the first two drafts. The importance of selecting lambs with correct finish or fat cover is also evident as R2 lambs were worth €8.23 less than the total average lamb price and had a kill out percentage 1.7pc lower than the average lamb slaughtered in 2018.

They accounted for only 7.2pc of the lambs with over 90pc of lambs selected at the desired fat class of three and a difference of just 0.24kg between the actual carcass and factory pay weights shows how Philip has mastered his lamb drafting skills.

Philip Higgins

Philip Higgins

Ewes were in good condition at housing this winter as a result of good grazing conditions and grass availability prior to housing in mid-December.

Concentrate feeding to the triplet-bearing ewes commenced six weeks from the lambing due date of March 3. They were initially fed 0.4kg for seven days, increased to 0.6kg for the next 10 days and increased to 1.2kg fed in two feeds which will be fed until turnout to grass.

Twin-bearing ewes were similarly introduced to concentrates four weeks out from lambing and increased to 1.0kg per head per day in two feeds. Singles are getting 0.4kg of concentrates from two weeks out from lambing. The ration is a high energy with 19pc protein with soya being second on the inclusion list of ingredients. Ewes carrying singles will be given an extra 100 grams of soya per day prior to lambing to ensure that all ewes are consuming around 200 grams of soya as Philip will cross foster all of the triplet born lambs.

He is using the pasture base programme this year as a tool to improve his grassland management skills and also will attend a Grass10 course starting this spring with a group of local farmers. The opening farm cover taken on February 25 shows an average farm cover of 1,427kg of grass dry matter per ha.

Philip adds that you can never have too much grass in the spring for ewes and lambs and has spread 20 units of nitrogen on the entire block this week. We hope to keep you updated on how he manages the high grass covers in future articles.

Tom Coll is a Teagasc advisor based in Mohill, Co Leitrim

Sheep farmer Philip Higgins talks to Tom Coll about how he fared on his financial targets for last year and his outlook for 2019

Philip Higgins with his dog, Pippa, on the farm in Skreen, Co Sligo. Photo by Brian Farrell

Philip HIGGINS is the latest farmer to join the Sheep Tech joint venture run by Teagasc in conjunction with Irish Country Meats.

Philip farms a mixed suckler and sheep farm just outside the village of Skreen in Co Sligo where he lives with his wife Amanda, son Jonathan and daughters Naomi and Hannah.

His flock consists of 316 commercial ewes, 29 pedigree Texel ewes and 115 ewe lambs.

He plans to increase ewe numbers to 500 in the next few years.