Should more sheep farmers install a paddock grazing system?

A paddock system will allow sheep farmers to control the quality of the grass fed to ewes and lambs, according to Teagasc’s Philip Creighton.

The Teagasc Research Officer said that the installation of a paddock system will result in an increase in grass utilisation, growth and quality.

Speaking at a Teagasc Better Sheep Farm walk in Co. Wexford on Thursday, he said farmers should aim to have at least five separate paddocks for their sheep flock.

This allows the ewes and lambs to be provided with leafy grass at all times, while heavier paddocks can be skipped and taken out as surplus bales.

Lamb don’t perform on fibre, they perform on leaf.

In terms of pre-grazing heights, he said that farmers should aim to graze at 7-9cm or 1,200kg of Dry Matter per hectare and aim to have the paddock grazed within three-to-four days.

Post-weaning, lambs should be grazed in a leader-follower system, he said, which allows the lambs to eat the best quality grass and the ewes are used to clean out the remaining grass on the paddock.

Philip Creighton speaking at the farm walk
Philip Creighton speaking at the farm walk

Why should you install a paddock system:
  • Control – Increased grass utilisation, growth and quality
  • Allows for rotational grazing – at least five paddocks are needed
  • Provides high-quality leafy grass
  • Average residency of five days per paddock – avoid hitting grass regrowth

A permanent paddock system can be expensive

Creighton also said that permanent paddock system can be expensive, but temporary fences can be used to make the most of grass on farm.

An example of permanent sheep fencing on John Doyle's farm
An example of permanent sheep fencing on John Doyle’s farm

According to Teagasc, three of the most popular temporary fencing options used on Irish sheep farms are plastic and timber posts with three or four strands of poly wire, the Gallagher smart fence or electric sheep netting.

The costs of these systems vary and according to Teagasc, the plastic and timber post option with three or four strands of poly wire costs €1-1.50/m.

The Gallagher smart fence costs €2.70/m to erect.
The Gallagher smart fence costs €2.70/m to erect.

The Gallagher smart fence consists of four strands of poly wire with integrated plastic posts and this system costs approximately €2.70/m to install.

Electric sheep netting costs €1.90/m
Electric sheep netting costs €1.90/m

While the third option, the electric sheep netting with seven strands of electrified poly wire costs €1.90/m.