The Irish Grassland Association (IGA) is set to hold its sheep conference and farm walk next Thursday, May 19.

Having been forced to move the event online over the last two years due to Covid-19 restrictions, it is now back in person this year following a similar format to previous years, with an indoor conference in the morning followed by a farm walk in the afternoon.

The conference will take place at the Hudson Bay Hotel in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, with proceedings due to kick off at 10:30a.m and registration at 10:00a.m. This will be followed by an afternoon session on the farm of father-and-daughter team Peadar and Aoife Coyle.

Both the morning and afternoon sessions will address pertinent topics including mastitis control, incorporating clover into your sheep sward and the challenges and benefits of operating a large-scale, multi-enterprise grassland livestock system.

A number of speakers are lined up for the conference including Ryan Duffy, from pharmaceutical company, Hipra; Philip Creighton, Teagasc; and Roger Bell, a sheep farmer from Northern Ireland.

Afternoon farm walk

As mentioned, the afternoon session will take place on the farm of Peadar and Aoife Coyle, who farm 230ac near Curraghboy in Co. Roscommon.

The farm consists of 80ac of owned land in one block and the remaining 150ac comprises rented ground.

The Coyles have a number of enterprises on the farm including a flock of 575 mid-season lambing ewes, a 40-cow suckler to weanling system, and a dairy calf-to-beef system, finishing 50 bullocks annually.

Over the past number of years the sheep enterprise has had a scanning rate of 1.9 and a weaning rate of 1.7 lambs per ewe joined to the ram, with all lambs finished on the farm.

Maintaining optimal grazing infrastructure is a key element to the Coyle farm with excellent facilities enabling good grassland management and reducing the labour requirement.

The 80ac home farm is divided into 17 permanent paddocks. Grass is not measured on the farm but instead it is managed by eye and experience, with heavy paddocks removed as baled silage, although this is rare due to the high stocking rate.

The Coyles are strong advocates for mixed grazing with the cattle and sheep grazing together achieving better grass utilisation and animal performance compared to grazing separately.

The home block is heavily stocked at 2.6LU/ha, with the 80ac supporting four grazing groups consisting of 40 suckler cows and their calves, along with approximately 300 ewes with twin lambs. The remainder of the ewes and dairy-beef animals are all grazed on the out farms.

All lambs are finished on-farm, with grass making up the majority of the diet. Lambs are weaned at 14-weeks-of-age at an average of 32kg.

All lambs are weighed fortnightly, which allows for frequent drafting across the summer months until October, when all remaining lambs are housed and offered concentrates ad-lib until drafting for slaughter.

All potential replacement ewe lambs are ear notched at birth and the best performing 150 ewe lambs are retained. In August, the 150 replacement ewe lambs are moved off farm to a contract rearer who looks after them until they return the following August as hoggets ready for the ram.

Peadar is a firm believer in soil fertility and has made a huge effort over the years to ensure it is optimised. This is evident, with approximately 80% of paddocks in index 3 or 4 for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

The home farm is soil sampled every three years and lime is spread accordingly to maintain a soil pH of 6.3 or above.

The Coyles are keen to optimise their nitrogen (N) use efficiency through more targeted applications and the inclusion of clover in grazing swards in the future.

Attendance for the event can be registered with the Irish Grassland Association.