Farming for generations

2 Feb , 2021  

The Maguire Family in Collon, Co Louth have been farming for generations and continue that proud tradition from their unique farm in the west corner of the Wee County. Irish Tractor & Agri touched based with Paul Maguire recently to learn more.

Farming for more than 30 years now, the Maguire Family in Collon, Co Louth has earned an excellent reputation for its work.

Paul and his brother Thomas together farm more than 600 acres, with the beef cattle and sheep each being managed separately.

Paul himself specialises in the sheep end of the alongside his wife Mary, son Mark and daughter Olive. Both Mark and Olive are involved in the farm, each taking on the responsibility of their own flock of sheep, including both Jacobs and Blue Texels.

Irish Tractor & Agri heard all about this thriving family business from Paul Maguire recently.

“We’re based near Collon in Co Louth and have been on the go for 30 years, but the family itself would be farming for generations,” Paul outlined.

“The farm itself is a partnership in that my brother, Thomas, would look after the cattle and I look after the sheep.

“Currently, when combined, the family is running a farm with numbers of over 1650 ewes, 50 rams and a 60 head suckler herd, operating over 600  acres.

“All rams and replacements are bred on the farm with both Romney and Texel rams bred for sale. We continue to supply our lambs to our local meat plant, ICM in Navan.”

Last year the Maguires took the decision to shear twice annually and while it has increased costs, it also provides long-term financial benefits.

“Ewes are easier to house requiring less space and reduced bedding,” Paul explained. “They are producing lambs which are born up to five per cent heavier, boosting survival rates and offering early turn out to grass.

“It also reduces the number of ewes going on their back in spring by up to 80%, which in turn decreases labour and the risk of acquiring pet lambs though ewe loss.

“In recent years both myself and Mark have become involved in a sheep farm discussion group, based in the North-East and overseen by Teagasc advisor Edward Egan.

“Being involved in such a group has allowed us to benefit from the knowledge, experience and ideas offered by the other members of the group while sharing with them our suggestions of methods we have found beneficial to our farm.”

In 2018, Mark  came back home upon completion of his Agricultural Science Degree to independently manage his Stabaliser herd and continuously growing flock.

“His input has greatly boosted the family enterprise bringing fresh ideas and a new managerial outlook,” Paul stated.

In addition to his farming, Mark is also a rep within the North East for Natural Stockcare Ltd, a company which supplies a variety of high concentrated feed supplements for livestock.

Such products have been used on the Maguire Family Farm for over 20 years and have been extremely beneficial to increase flock condition as the farm is based in an area lacking in minerals such as cobalt and selenium, with Paul himself a believer that there is no such thing as an ewe in too good of a condition for going in lamb.

Indeed the objective is to have lambs ready for the factory on a weekly basis throughout the year, as they go directly to the meat plant in Navan. That means that while the variation in price will be massive throughout the year, it’s still the average that is most important overall.

In order ensure the constant supply of lambs, the Maguires breed from the beginning of December to April. This makes the Dorset the ideal choice for this system and Paul aims to have six lamb crops in a five-year period.

All of the ewes at Maguire Family Farm are lambed indoors, where there is a large lambing shed on the home farm which accommodates for some 600 ewes.

The majority of the Maguires’ sheep are based at an out farm a couple of miles adrift from the home and they experience few lambing problems, as the lambs are lively and quickly up and sucking.

“The best thing about the style that we’ve adopted here is that we’re practically selling every week, which means that it’s brilliant for cash flow,” Paul said.

“The lowest time of year for selling lamb would be July and August and the rest of the year round we’re kept busy with it. We’d be doing around 50-60 lambs a week when we’re busy anyway.”

Three years ago, the Maguires were taken by the benefits of introducing Romneys to the flock, and so to date the flock comprises of 70-80% Romney Crosses.

“We are aware every sheep breed has advantages and disadvantages, but for us personally the Romney is a hardy allrounder sheep and suits the type of farm we run,” said Paul.

“Their biggest downfall is that they grow into a larger ewe than most, leading to increased demand for food intake, although most of this demand can be provided by grass. Their benefits include a larger lamb at birth, boosting survival rates.

“Between 2017/18 we noticed an increased number of sheep within the flock pining and showing signs of respiratory compromise. After several similar cases, in conjunction with our dedicated veterinary team and national laboratories the condition was diagnosed as Ovine Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma. This disease is also known as Jaagsiekte which is a contagious lung tumour in sheep and will often go undetected in many flocks despite being widespread.”

In a bid to eliminate the disease and protect the future of the flock, the Maguires adopted a strict culling policy where any sheep of any age showing any signs of respiratory weakness was culled and replaced with home-bred ewe lambs.

Education on the disease and awareness of symptoms allowed them to notice carriers within the flock earlier, leading to culling before the sheep reached a critical stage.

The effect of replacing culls with ewe lambs from their own flock increased replacements from 20% to 25-28% for the following two years. This has had a notable effect of the disease with contraction rates now well below five per cent.

Now looking directly ahead, Paul and the rest of the Maguire clan are aiming towards to developing the business further in 2021.

“Going forward we wish to continue developing our family business and embracing the new ideas, like perhaps lambing some of the flock outdoors to reduce housing needs,” he said.

“As a family we aim to continue seeking out new ideas of how to reduce the workload on an all year-round busy farm.”

Great to hear.

Maguire Family Farm
Co Louth
Mobile: 086 263 9973

First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 1, January/February 2021