‘Sheep farmers generating better returns than suckler farms at present’

Sheep farmers are generating better profits per ewe than sucker farmers are making per cow, according a Teagasc advisor in Co. Roscommon.

Speaking last Monday night, April 22, at a farmer meeting in Dysart community centre – organised by independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice and Ivan Connaughton, cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council – Teagasc business and technology advisor for drystock, James Kelly, drew on comparisons between the sectors.

Despite the opportunities which he says exist within the sheep sector, he also warned that young farmers appear to have “no appetite” to enter the field.

“In terms of profit monitors, while I’m not going to get stuck on figures, ewes are leaving around €60-€80 per ewe – that’s what we’re finding, the margins are in there.

“For a lad that is doing fairly well, you’re talking in the region of €60-€80. Those lads that are doing them very well, weaning at 1.6 lambs per ewe and keeping costs tight. That’s the zone.

So, when you compare them to a suckler cow, they are probably a better sector – just at the moment.

“You look at beef, bulls at the minute are at €3.60/kg or even less, lamb is €6.35/kg. It stands to reason [that] sheepmeat is more expensive than beef, so that is going to leave them a little bit more profitable,” he said.

Locally, Kelly pointed out that there are an estimated 1,700 sheep farmers in Co. Roscommon.

The average flock size in Roscommon is 105 ewes; while nationally 70% of the flocks are at a current level of less than 100 sheep.

Addressing the floor, Kelly highlighted that the national flock is reducing.

“It contracted by 1.7% last year; people aren’t getting into sheep.”

According to figures recently released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the total number of sheep in Ireland in June 2018 dropped by 87,800 head compared to June 2017 – when the total national flock size tallied at 5,109,300 head.

“At the mart, the age profile of sheep farmers that you’ll see is a lot of white heads. We don’t need any official figures to point out that there are a lot of old men at sheep.

“I do the sheep modules on the Green Cert and young people tend not to like sheep. There is no appetite for them going into sheep,” he said.

On the bright side, Kelly points out that this scenario means there is a decent market and price there for those in the sector.

Market opportunities

In terms of opportunities, Kelly says there is a strong market in Europe at the moment.

“The sheep sector isn’t going to be impacted as much by Brexit as the beef sector is. For the beef sector, the vast, vast majority of our beef is going into the UK.

“But the vast majority of our lambs are going down to France, and there are new markets opening up in Holland.

Sweden has become another big market in recent years – there was very little going there a few years ago; but there is a lot going there now.

“The big opportunity there is that there is no real expansion in numbers – so when there is no real expansion in numbers it’s really down to supply and demand.

“If there is not that many sheep there then there will be a price for them,” he concluded.