Striving for a €1,778/ha gross output with an ‘uncomplicated’ sheep system

John Byrne lambs 575 ewes in Bagnelstown Co. Carlow and this year his farm is expected to generate a gross output of €1,778/ha.

As part of the Teagasc series of Autumn grass walks, Byrne opened the gates of his farm to over 40 farmers on Thursday last.

He explained that the main aim of his business is to keep things as simple as possible and to avoid unnecessary complications that take away from his bottom line.

Over the years, grass has become an important part of the production system, with the 51ha farm divided into 22 grazing paddocks, which can be subdivided further through the use of temporary fences.

Hugh Mahon (left) and John Byrne (centre)
Hugh Mahon (left) and John Byrne (centre)

Gross margin set to break the €800/ha mark

The farmers who attended the farm walk were given a run down of the projected financial performance of Byrne’s farm for this year.

Projections carried out by his local Teagasc Advisor, Hugh Mahon, show that the farm is expected to return a gross output of €1,778/ha this year – almost €173/ha higher than the top 33% of sheep farmers in 2015.

A high stocking rate, combined with lamb sales of 1.53 lambs per ewe joined, are the main driving factors behind this level of performance.

Expected returns VS Top 33% of sheep farmers in 2016:


Overall, the farm carries 11.27 ewes/ha with a stocking rate of 2.25LU/ha, which also puts Byrne’s system of production ahead of the top 33% of sheep farms in 2016.

All-in-all, given the level of output, the gross margin generated by the farm is expected to reach €818/ha this year.

However, the Bagnelstown-based farmer admitted that reaching this level of performance will depend on the lamb price for the remainder of the year, as he still has 150 lambs to bring to market.

He also pointed out that an area that the farm will more than likely fall down in 2016 will be variable costs, with projections suggesting that this will come in at €960/ha – 46% higher that the top third of farmer in 2015.

Lambing performance and ewe type

In 2016, Byrne will market 1.53 lambs for every ewe joined to the farm, but he has plans to increase this figure to 1.6 in the coming years.

The 575 strong ewe flock consists of a mixture of Suffolk and Texel cross ewes, with varying breeds of ram, including Suffolk, Texel and Charollais, used to produce both factory lambs and replacements for the ewe flock.

Byrne explained that he operates a very simple breeding policy, with the darker faced ewes on the farm mated to light faced rams, while the lighter ewes are bred back to Suffolk rams.


To spread out the workload in the spring time and to have lambs ready to slaughter early, approximately 165 ewes are lambed early in the new year.

A further 345 ewes are ran as a mid-season flock and 65 ewe lambs are also put to the farm on an annual basis.

Lambs reared per ewe joined:
  • Early lambing flock: 1.54
  • Mid season lambing flock: 1.62
  • Ewe lambs: 1.00
Crowds in attendance at the farm walk
Crowds in attendance at the farm walk

Stubble turnips a key component of the system

Byrne also described the 9ac of stubble turnips grown on the farm as a key component of his farming system.

He said that 230 ewes will begin to graze the stubble turnip crop from November 1, and it reduces the amount of meal needed for these ewes prior to lambs.

Ewes carrying single lambs might not get any meal prior to lambing, he said, while twin-bearing ewes will be introduced to meals approximately four weeks before lambing.

The stubble turnip crop, which had a yield of 7t of Dry Matter per hectare on the day of the farm walk, is also used as part of a reseeding programme.

Byrne said that the crop fits in perfectly with the programme, as the ground can be reseeded once the crop has been grazed off in the spring.