The first in a series of 'Growing Organics' farm walks takes place on the farm of Jason Stanley, Errill, Co. Laois, on the 2nd of June 2023. Marianne Mulhall, Specialised Organic Advisor, previews Jason's farming system and the upcoming open day in this article.
Jason Stanley farms in Castleflemming, Errill, Co. Laois. He converted to organic farming in 2011 and full organic status was achieved in May 2013. The farm, which is 78ha, comprises of a mix of tillage and sheep production - split 50:50 between both enterprises.
The sheep enterprise consists of 400 March-lambing ewes. The stocking rate on the farm is 11.25 ewes/ha. All ewes are housed mid/late November in two large straw-bedded sheds and let out to grass as they lamb. The main breeds of sheep on the farm are Belclare x New Zealand Suffolk. The rams used are Belclare and Charollais.
The rams are introduced to the flock around the 10th of October and left with them for six weeks. Ewes are lambed indoors and let out to grass as they lamb. Lambs are grazed on mulrispecies grasses, white clover and red clover grass swards. They are mostly finished off grass with Jason commenting: “The red clover grass is excellent for lamb weight gains. The MSS is also an excellent forage for the lambs and particularly in a dry period it is the only grass that continues to grow".
The target weights for slaughter are 38-44kg and the first batch are usually ready in July. Jason is a member of the Laois/Offaly Producers Group. All finished lambs are sold to ICM in Camolin, Co. Wexford. The later lambs are finished on forage crops of fodder rape, along with red clover silage, oats and potatoes.
Ewes are fed for eigth weeks prior to lambing and the diet consists of red clover silage, oats and beans and is tailored to single/twin/triplet bearing ewes. This total mixed ration (TMR) is fed with a diet feeder, which Jason has found to be a huge benefit in terms of “creating a more efficient diet for the ewes, saving on feeding time and helps in terms of safety as there is no need to enter pens with feed and risk being knocked over”.
Jason makes red clover and MSS silage and also buys in red clover silage from another organic farmer to meet his winter feeding requirement, along with the oats, beans and the forage crop that are all grown on the farm. No concentrate feed is purchased for his flock. All the straw used for bedding is produced on the farm and is a very valuable source of fertiliser for the farm along with organic Dairy Sludge from Glanbia, which is imported and spread in April and May each year. Slurry is also imported, if available, to maintain soil fertility on the farm.
Table 1 – Planned Land Use Details 2023
Land Use Hectares Use
Spring barley 12 Organic seed barley for Boortmalt
Spring oats 18 Flahavans and feed
Spring beans 1.6 Feed
Forage rape 8 Grazing for lambs
MSS Ley 18.4 Grazing and silage
Grass / red clover 7 Grazing and silage
Grass 13 Grazing and silage
With regards to flock health, faecal analyses are taken to assess the level and identify the type of internal parasites - if present. If necessary, an appropriate anthelminthic is used.
The withdrawal periods are doubled and sometimes trebled, so care is needed with applications for future slaughter dates. Mostly Jason finds that he only needs to dose in a very wet year and he gives only cobalt to the lambs. He gets permission from his Organic Body to vaccinate against clostridial diseases each year, as this has been identified in consultation with the vet as a health risk for his flock. Otherwise Jason is very happy that there is very little veterinary interventions required. He also finds that using the TMR feeding system has significantly decreased the incidence of prolapse in the flock.
What's happening at the farm walk?
The organic farm walk will be opened with a welcome address from Minister Pippa Hackett, Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity and Stan Lalor, Director of KT, Teagasc.
Following on from that you will have the opportunity to listen to a number of talks on various topics such as:
Growing an organic forage crop - Dr. Frank Campion, Teagasc BETTER Sheep Programme;
Soil health - Cathal Somers, Teagasc ASSAP Advisor, Kilkenny;
Water quality - Fiona Doolan, Teagasc ASSAP Advisor, Kildare;
Health & Safety - Francis Bligh, Teagasc Safety Specialist;
Future organic markets - Emmett Doyle, Bord Bia;
Growing tillage crops organically - Martin Bourke, Teagasc Organic Tillage Specialist;
Multispecies swards - Dr. Philip Creighton, Teagasc Sheep Enterprise Leader, Athenry.
Source: EMM/ The Agriculture and Food Development Authority