AN ABRIDGED AND PHOTOGRAPH FREE NEWSLETTER WHICH WAS SENT TO THE SOCIETY MEMBERS IN SUMMER 2017 VIA EMAIL

The Society met for the Annual Society Open Day and AGM on the weekend of 10th June 2017 in Southern Ireland. Our hosts, Jim and Allison Greer along with our Irish Easy Care Society Co-Ordinators, Steven Feehan and Steven Johnson and their families had put together an excellent itinerary of events for the members who travelled out.


The Society met for the Annual Society Open Day and AGM on the weekend of 10th June 2017 in Southern Ireland. Our hosts, Jim and Allison Greer along with our Irish Easy Care Society Co-Ordinators, Steven Feehan and Steven Johnson and their families had put together an excellent itinerary of events for the members who travelled out.

Day One – The Battle of the Boyne Site and the Feehan’s Farm

The weekend started on Friday 9th June at the site of the Battle of The Boyne. The weather was beautiful and we were taken on an interesting tour of the house and grounds. Time allowed us to sit and relax in the gardens which we all appreciated.

From there we travelled for lunch to The Monasterboise Inn, not far away, but our car managed to get lost! It all added to the fun of the weekend that we got lost every time we went anywhere. Thankfully we only got small bunches of other folk lost too. It didn’t help that the satnav on the hire vehicle would only work in one language and that was Polish.

The service and food at all the venues we visited was excellent. We were a large group but within 20 minutes we were sat down and within another 20 minutes we were fed. The Monasterboise Inn is off the M1, I would certainly recommend it if you are visiting Southern Ireland.

The day continued with a visit to the farm of Steven, Rachael, Purdi and Max Feehan. Steven is a beef procurement officer for ABP and spends three days a week in mainland UK and then in the ABP business in Ireland. The farm is run day to day by Rachael, Purdi, Max and the border/welsh collies.

They run a flock of 700 Easy Care ewes and 200 gimmer hoggs on 150 acres. The farm has been in the family for generations but at present there is no habitable farmhouse at the site. The Easy Care breed was chosen for the obvious reasons but also, and this is an important point to note, Steven is in the meat trade, he understands what the carcass requirements are and he can get along fine with the pure bred Easy Care lamb.

We walked around the fields, there was an abundance of grass to be seen and some considerable work had been carried out in ditching and fencing. The grassland is not ploughed. Some of the grass has been down since the 1920’s. The Feehans lamb outside in April.

After the farm walk we were delighted to find a BBQ awaiting us in the farm yard and we all tucked in to some excellent English steaks. The wine and beer also went down very well.

Once again the Society thanks the Feehan’s for their time and excellent hospitality.

Day 2 – The AGM and a tour of the Greer’s Farm

Saturday 10th June started wet so we were all concerned that we were in for a soaking. Thankfully after our 10 mile detour [because we got lost –again] we arrived at Valleyview Farm in sunshine. We then blame the rain for washing away the writing on the sign!

After the AGM [minutes attached to the Newsletter] we set off on the tour of Jim and Allison Greer’s farm. Since I was last at their home in August 2015 they have bought three Stabiliser bulls so now they breed Easy Care Sheep and Stabiliser cattle. Therefore the tour was a cattle and sheep tour with discussions on both breeds as we visited sheds and fields.

The Greer’s farm 200 acres of grassland; they lamb at the end of March inside. They have no choice but to lamb inside as they cannot lamb outside due to the risk of flooding.

The event was covered by the local radio station and both Jim and I were interviewed for the show. The tour started in the cattle sheds where Billy O’Kane, a vet and Stabiliser cattle breeder explained about the merits of Stabilisers to the very large group of visitors. I still have to persuade Billy that he needs Easy Care sheep.

In the cattle sheds we were told that all progeny are finished on farm, the males remain entire and both bulls and heifers are finished under 16 months old. The calves are born April, May and June and at the date of the event the bulls weighed an average of 596kg.

Jim explained why he had made the change to Stabilisers. The ease of calving was important to him as they lamb and calve at the same time. He prefers to spend his nights in bed rather than in a shed and he doesn’t want to routinely have to help the cows at calving. He now gets an extra 4 to 5 calves surviving that he knows he may have lost with his previous regime.

Jim believes that by using the Stabiliser sires that have a proven Net Feed Efficiency Estimated Breeding Value he can reduce his feed bill and therefore, just as he has reduce his inputs on the sheep side of the enterprise, he can do the same with the cattle. He is also using Alltech which is improving the diet. By looking at what was actually being eaten and digested it was found that the rumen wasn’t dealing with all the feed so improvements in the diet have been made to give good rumen health. Jim is also keen on using zinc in the diet. Jim’s cattle are finished on slats so good bone/hoof strength is essential to avoid lameness.

Calving started the last day of March and 90% of the cows had calves within the month. Between 5th and 19th March 65 calves had been born with an average birthweight of 38kg. The cattle are Black Leg vaccinated

Jim came along to the Society Easy Care Open Day in 2011 at Charley Walkers and Duncan Shells and realised that Easy Cares needed less input for more output. He realised fairly quickly that both Duncan Shell and the Walkers were selling more live lambs as they were rearing the lambs but were leaving the ewes to get on with their job whereas he was practically living with his woolly sheep and not getting anything like the results he felt he should. He firmly believes Easy Care Sheep are better for your mental health as well as your family and social life.

The sheep started lambing 7th April and by mid-April had got into the swing of it. By 25th April all but 5 had lambed. 100 hoggs were put to the tup. They were slower to lamb than the older group but he is content to always lamb hoggs. This year Jim had a 200% lambing in the older flock and to that date 1.78% being reared with few pet lambs. Jim felt that perhaps he had too many lambs and would prefer the lambing %age to go down a little. Jim’s sheep are on the Heptovac system

Jim gets no incidents of twin lamb and he ensures he never over feeds the pregnant sheep so avoids prolapses. Indoors over winter they get grass silage and whole oats/soya. He finishes 90% of his lambs off grass alone by the end of September at 21kg DW. All his lambs meet the correct killing out percentage and having had lambs from every type of sheep breed the Easy Cares do his job admirably.

Jim and Allison’s Easy Care flock was initially started with sheep purchased from society member, Derek Steen. They have increased their flock numbers and have never regretted the decision to leave woolly sheep behind and go completely into Easy Care’s. The sheep on show were excellent.

The day was very well attended and the excellent lunch was sponsored by Kepak Meats, Irish Country Meats and SupaValu, served by friends and family with donations given to the Greer’s favoured charity.

For the second half of the day we had speakers on a variety of subjects. Our Northern Ireland Co-Ordinator Dr Steven Johnson gave a talk entitled ‘Time for a Change’. In Southern Ireland the average size of the flock is 105 ewes. Steven felt that the farmers had too much time on their hands to faff about with their sheep and could therefore allow undesirable traits to come to the fore and complicate what ought to be a simple, easily cared for animal. He feels that pedigree breeders are ruining sheep by accentuating traits that are not necessary just for showing and dangling on a bit of rope.

Sheep must be: Simple - Efficient - Market Focused with the ultimate aim to be Sustainable. The sheep must do the job for you not the other way around. They must be grass based and must reduce fixed costs to make sheep farming work for the farmer in to the 21st Century.

The Society thanks Jim, Allison and their family for allowing us to have our AGM and Open Day at their farm, we had an excellent day.

We ended the day with good humour over a first class meal at the Glencarn Hotel in Castleblayney.

Day 3 – Campbell Tweed’s farm

Sadly we lost the good weather when we visited Campbell Tweed; the rain lashed down and caused us to have to scurry for cover frequently.

We arrived to the smell of a BBQ so we were greatly appreciative of good food to warm us up as just getting from the carpark had given us a drenching. The food was sponsored by Dunbia and served by friends and family plus AHDB helpers.

Campbell gave us a rundown of the farm. He started with Easy Care sheep in 1999 after visiting Iolo on Angelsey. Campbell performance records his sheep with Signet and has been doing this since the late 1980’s. He has 3,000 ewes of which 600 are recorded which is a still a fair task. Sheep are selected to suit his ground and maternal traits are very important.

Campbell lambs from the 12th April, he has poor land and it rises to an altitude of 1,600 feet but the sheep perform well.

Campbell mentioned that he had been told when he started with the breed that Easy Cares can do everything for themselves including loading themselves. Clearly that is not the case but he is content that they do the bad sheep traits much less often than woolly sheep.

Campbell tests for worm resistance, if challenged with worms the samples are sent to Glasgow, Campbell finds there is a big difference even in the same breeding. By carrying out the testing the aim is to reduce the worm burden and be able to ultimately use fewer chemicals to control the problem. The idea is to get his flock to be genetically worm resistant.

I will hold up my hands and say that I missed some of Campbell’s tour as I was discussing the merits of Easy Care sheep with a group of interested farmers who had visited to see the sheep and who were thinking of grading up or buying a group to try.

Emma Steele from AHDB came along to discuss Signet recording. I have the slides from the day, if anyone wants to see them I can email them to you. I may use one or two in a future Newsletter to stimulate the debate on whether we need to record or not and how best to do it.

Jonathan Birney is from Dunbia. I remember him when he had hair and worked for the NFU. Jonathan is now Head of Dunbia Agriculture and Research.

His talk was entitled Brexit is coming. He feels it will be a new era for agriculture but the most relevant parts are:

Food security, political instability, antibiotic resistance, water availability, climate change, diversification and increased population.

Sheep farmers must meet customer demand. The graders are finding lambs are too heavy particularly the continental breeds and therefore Easy Care fit the Dunbia specification better as they are a lighter breed.

Efficiency in production is essential, particularly up to and beyond Brexit. Lamb competes with a lot of other meats, it is for the main part just another commodity so if you want to get more for your product either add value or reduce inputs.

In taste tests grass fed lamb came miles ahead, it wasn’t tough, it was tasty and if the consumer can get it at a price they are comfortable with they will repeat buy. Easy Cares can finish off grass, promote this. However, older people tend to eat lamb so we need to buck that trend and by doing lamb burgers etc the product can get to more consumers. The big leg of lamb joints are the most thrown away lamb product in the supermarket. The days of eating the left overs the following day have gone therefore a big joint of meat isn’t required.

The trade needs lambs that are longer, smaller and ideally R3L and O+. Jonathan repeated what the speaker from Irish Country Meats told us the day before. Basically stop sending big and too fat lambs. Jonathan said to avoid U’s as they are not easily dealt with as they are too big. Pick your market and know what you are aiming for.

Labour and machinery are the biggest on farm costs. By having Easy Cares we are showing our commitment to reducing some of those costs. Overall only 48% of lambs killed hit the spec and it needs to change, we need to know how to feed and how to draw them out on time and correctly. A 2L is less tasty than a 3L but an R3L is best. The cost to put fat on a lamb is 4 times as much as lean meat and no one wants all that fat. Thankfully Easy Cares are much more suitable for consumers than the majority of breeds out in the marketplace now as Jonathan says they are generally grass fed and leaner with more meat to fat ratio.

70% of lamb meat goes overseas, mainly to France. Dunbia are happy that they are able to export but see any trade tariffs as being problematic to their business. The whole carcass needs to be sold, they don’t want trading issues. They can have 20% wastage if the carcass doesn’t meet spec. £13/18 will sell a whole lot better than £20/25 to the end user. The consumer isn’t reasonable; they will pay for quality but to a point. One bad experience can stop the product being bought for 4 to 5 months.

Jonathan feels welfare is very important to the consumer, whether they will pay more for it though is open to debate. Certainly if the Easy Care breed got out good news stories on social media and pushed the high welfare, grass fed lamb with minimum concentrates Jonathan felt it could only help to shift lamb and we would be dragged along with it.

Thank you the Campbells, Jonathan and Emma for giving up their time and providing hospitality.

The group dispersed to their various homes and that was it for another year.

What always impresses me about the farm walks and open days is that we get the chance to see excellent stock and visit beautiful parts of the countryside that we would otherwise not be able to visit. Once again thank you to all who allowed us to visit.

Next year we are in Essex courtesy of Mr and Mrs E Hull, Fingeringhoe, Nr Colchester, Essex.

I will send the AGM minutes by separate email or letter depending on how you get your news. You should have all had a letter from our Treasurer, Mr Richard Cook explaining exactly how the Society works and the decision to have the 1st of June as the start date for the membership renewal year. The membership remains at a reasonable £25. You will note that the attendance at five NSA events is not cheap and the members who sit on the stands all day and the members who provide the sheep do so free of charge. Please remember they all have a farm or alternative employment as well so they are doing this work for the good of the breed and the Society members.

You will not be able to place adverts on to the new website if you have not paid your subs. If you submit an advert I will intercept it. I will then ring Richard Cook and he will advise if membership is paid or not and then I will advise you if the advert can go on to the site. We have had a few non-members being able to sell stock via the website without paying their membership. This is unfair to everyone who pays their £25 annually.

Change of Secretary

We have also had a change of Society Secretary. Jo Hewitt has stepped down as Secretary and I have taken over. May I take this opportunity on your behalf to thank Jo for her hard work over the last couple of years, particularly in trying to sort out the Society’s banking. Jo has organised next year’s AGM and Open Day venue and continues to help the Society with her attendance at NSA events and helping with the Worcester and Exeter sales. Her ongoing assistance is valued greatly.

New Website

The new website is LIVE. Go and have a look at it https://www.easycaresheep.com/

I will still need assistance from the designer and he has kindly said he will ‘hand hold’ for a while until I find my way around it.

The home page has the new film of Iolo which Tom Barton, son of Co-Ordinator James Barton, kindly filmed for us. It is excellent and well worth a look at.

It is designed to work well on mobile phones and we have tried to make it smart and simple to use.

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/GlantraethEasyCare/

This is the link to the Facebook page. You can also click on the FB link on the website. Morgan Owen, Iolo’s Grandson, manages the site for us, we have 1,119 followers.

Please like the page and add your photos when you are going about your work. If you can’t do the ‘posting’ find someone who can but do join in as it is great to see what other folk are doing and it stimulates interest.

The sale dates were in the Farmers Guardian which was out on Friday 4th August but in case you missed them here they are again: