One of the key take home messages for farmers at Teagasc Sheep 2015 event in Athenry was utilising the most amount of grass as efficiently as possible.

On the day farmers got the opportunity to take a first hand behind the scenes look at Teagasc’s Athenry demonstration flock which is now in its third year.

One of the key aims of the flock is to investigate the effect that varying stocking rates have on the profitability of the sheep enterprise.

The stocking rates investigated were 10, 12 and 14 ewes/ha. Coming out on top so far has been the medium rate which has achieved a gross margin of €1,015/ha.

According to lead researcher of the trial Philip Creighton the utilisation of grass has been key. “At 12 ewes/ha, weaning 1.8 lambs, we were utilising in the region of about 10.5 tonnes of grass.

“With the farm growing 12-13 tonnes we were utilising 85% of grass grown at that stocking rate while also optimising our lamb output.

“When we pushed that to 14 ewes/ha what we found was we didn’t have enough grass in the system and we had to bring in concentrates. Which led to more expense.

“We had a higher lamb output, but it cost us more,” he said.

According to Creighton it’s all about utilising grass.

“Regardless of what’s else is going on you have to utilise about 850kg of grass per ewe and lamb unit,” he said.

Creighton said grass management is a skill that sheep farmers must develop. ” Nobody expects farmers to do it overnight. But events like Sheep 2015 provide farmers with an excellent opportunity to learn the key skills.”

Addressing concerns among farmers that increasing stoking rates can hit animal performance, Creighton stressed that output is key.

“The results that we have found is; yes you will get lower individual animal performance as you increase your stocking rates. But if you can do it at a rate that increases your output in a profitable manner. Who cares about individual animal performance?

“Its about a system that makes money,” he said.