Sheep farming is generally not thought of as an area that presents a high degree of safety risks. It is however an industry where wear and tear and high volumes of manual handling can have long-term negative impacts, with back pain, arthritis and hip/knee issues the most prevalent.

Breeding preparations and tasks such as body condition scoring, checking udders and feet and raddling rams can all potentially put significant stress on the operator. Many of these tasks however can be lessened by having handling equipment in place and adopting recommended handling techniques. Measures that can be taken to reduce workload and tips to avoid preventable issues are discussed below:

Handling unit

A basic handling unit where sheep can be flocked easily is an essential item on any farm. This can take the form of sheep hurdles that can be conveniently and quickly set-up and dismantled to form mobile penning or more permanent or advanced units that include a race. Where units do not contain a race, it is highly advantageous to be able to alter the size of penning to prevent animals having too much room to manoeuvre which will greatly ease the effort required in catching and restraining animals.

Investing in a race will make this task much easier as tasks such as body condition scoring, dosing, vaccination etc will be possible without having to struggle with restraining the sheep.

While a significant investment in a low income sector, races are not hugely expensive with sheeted side races recommended over long sheep hurdles as animals move a lot easier when they can only see ahead.

Typical entry costs for sheeted, dipped galvanised 20ft races range from €500 to €700 excluding VAT with units containing a drafting gate at the front, back or non-return gates and foot baths costing in the region of €900 to €1,200 excluding VAT. These costs can be doubled or trebled for lightweight aluminium units or more elaborate races that have automatic drafting and recording capabilities. The extra cost of a two-way or three-way drafting gate on a race quickly pays for itself in taking the stress and pressure out of manually separating sheep.

The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) are currently offering grant aid on sheep handling equipment and fencing under the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme or TAMS II. Grant aid is available at a rate of 40% excluding VAT to a maximum spend of €80,000. Young trained farmers may be eligible for a higher grant aid rate of 60%.

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Read the full focus section on sheep breeding here