Rapid transition off forage diets saw spike in sheep acidosis
Analysis of sheep carcases in late summer 2018 showed a spike in acidosis cases, which have been linked to increased concentrate feeding.

Analysis of sheep carcases and samples submitted to regional veterinary laboratories (RVLs) in late summer shows a spike in the number of ruminal acidosis cases.

As grass supplies dried up on many farms, farmers moved lambs on to predominately concentrate-based diets.


In the RVL quarter-three report, farmers were advised to “be vigilant regarding the dangers of rapidly transitioning from a forage diet to a diet containing concentrates in situations where forage is scarce”.

Cases of both enteritis and pulpy kidney in sheep carcases presented were less frequent for the same period in 2017.

Acidosis was the third-most common cause of mortality

Parasitic gastroenteritis and pneumonia remained the two most common diseases diagnosed in sheep following a post-mortem examination.

Acidosis was the third-most common cause of mortality.

During the late-summer period, 244 carcases and 662 diagnostic samples (eg blood, faecal, etc) were submitted for analysis.

The 10 most common diseases were:

  • Parasitic gastro-enteritis.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Ruminal acidosis.
  • Septicaemia.
  • Encephalitis.
  • Parasitic bronchitis.
  • Abscessation-miscellaneous.
  • Tick borne fever.
  • Enteritis and pneumonia.
  • Pulpy kidney disease.
  • Read more

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    Addressing hill sheep marketing opportunities and challenges
    A discussion at next week’s hill sheep conference will look at how the sector can realise marketing opportunities and add value to the sector.

    The marketing of hill sheep will be under the spotlight at next week’s Teagasc hill sheep conference.

    The KT-approved sheep event, which takes place in the Glendalough Hotel, Co Wicklow, on Tuesday 19 February starting at 6pm, includes a panel section focusing on how the hill sheep sector can be better linked with the market.

    Important role for marts

    Manager of Kenmare Mart Dan McCarthy will give an overview of the importance of the hill sheep sector in Kerry and outline the important role marts can play in providing an outlet for hill lambs.

    There are also opportunities to continue to develop strong links between hill and lowland farmers

    There are challenges facing the mart’s customer base, with an ageing profile of farmers and stricter regulations two issues raised, but there are also opportunities to continue to develop strong links between hill and lowland farmers.

    Good environmental practice

    Connemara-based farmer Brendan Joyce runs a hill farm near Maam Cross with his family.

    He says one of the greatest challenges to farmers is alignment of policy between what the National Parks & Wildlife Service sees as good environmental practice and what the Department of Agriculture sees as good agricultural practice.

    Brendan says that with buy-in from stakeholders, these challenges can be turned into opportunities to ensure a positive future for hill farming.

    Atlantic Hill Brand

    The introduction of the Atlantic Hill Lamb brand following a link-up between the INHFA and Kepak, along with support from Bord Bia, is an area where Brendan sees scope to build on the 16,000 lambs marketed to date.

    James Smyth of Irish Country Meats sees an important role for hill lamb in helping to address the seasonal nature of lamb production in Ireland.

    James will develop this topic and outline how hill lambs can be an integral part of Irish sheepmeat output.

    Irish sheepmeat sector needs access to China to expand opportunities
    Access to China would offer huge opportunity to market sheep offal and skins according to Irish Country Meats general manager John Walsh. Peter Varley reports from the ASA event in Wexford

    Irish sheepmeat processing has transformed significantly over the last decade, with new markets for value added products opening regularly, delegates at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) sheep masterclass were told.

    The event was held at the headquarters of Irish Country Meats (ICM) in Camolin, Co Wexford, last week and co-ordinated by ASA president Amii McKeever.

    Speaking at the event, ICM general manager John Walsh said in 2006 81% of Irish sheepmeat was going to France – that is down to 50% today.

    John said this is down to the combined work by Bord Bia, ICM and other factories to secure markets in various European markets. ICM processes 1.1m sheep annually and maintains a 42% share of the total sheep kill in the country.

    Potential for skins

    John said he would love to see Irish lamb being sold in China because he believes there is a lot of opportunity there, especially for fifth quarter products and skins.

    “It is a pity that they didn’t combine lamb with beef when they were making trade negotiations with the US and China,” he said.

    “New Zealand has developed an impressive market share in China and there are also opportunities for Irish sheepmeat,” he continued.

    John is hopeful that the future supply of lamb will remain strong and he mentioned the challenges that could threaten the supply, namely Brexit plus the need to attract young sheep farmers into the sector.

    He said buyers do ask about supplies going into the future, so it is important to be able to give a confident answer.

    Farmgate prices were strong in 2018 at an average annual price of €5.04/kg paid to farmers, which was up 27c/kg compared with 2017, according to Walsh.

    He said it looks like hogget prices will see record highs this spring, with prices currently at €5.58c/kg and the potential to rise further as the spring progresses.

    Clean livestock policy

    Contentious issues, such as the clean livestock policy (CLP), weight limits and electronic tagging, were also raised.

    “March [2018] through to the end of the year, the presentation of livestock has been much better – it has been a step change how farmers now present their sheep for slaughter,” said John.

    “The CLP has worked wonders and retailers are insisting [on] it as a given now,” he explained.

    On weight limits, Walsh said ICM would not waiver from its current programme.

    “Some farmers say why don’t you pay to 26kg, but the reason is supermarkets are gauged that every product must hit a certain price point,” Walsh said.

    During the factory tour, he showed an example of legs in packaging that were all very close to the same weight.

    John explained if one of these legs was a little heavier, it would result in the retail price increasing and consumers would avoid it, opting for the lower-priced option.

    Electronic tagging

    With regards to another contentious subject electronic tagging, John said the debate should not centre solely on what the tagging costs, highlighting that it is an opportunity lost as all our competitors have it.

    “The Germans have the ambition that QR codes will have pictures of farmers where the lamb was sourced,” he said, outlining how demands in the market are changing.

    With electronic tagging, he believes it could be an opportunity to displace New Zealand product, as it doesn’t have it.

    He says better identification technology could also make it easier for every farmer to receive kill and health reports on each animal slaughtered.

    ASA sheep masterclass offers glimpse of ICM’s sheep factory
    In addition to getting a first-hand experience of a busy processing facility, there will also be specialist presentations on grassland management principles, sheep breeding and anthelmintic efficacy.

    The Agricultural Science Association (ASA) is holding a sheep masterclass event on Wednesday 6 February at Irish Country Meats, 1 Annesley CT, Ballynakill, Camolin, Co Wexford.

    The event is an exciting opportunity to see the workings of an export-orientated sheep processing facility, with a factory tour taking place on the day.


    Irish Country Meats is Ireland’s largest sheep processor, with its main plant located in Camolin. The company also has a facility in Navan.

    The company has made impressive advancements in recent years in developing a strong portfolio of sheepmeat products, with value added exports continuing to replace exports of sheepmeat in carcase form.

    The factory visit offers an insight into how these markets have developed in recent years, along with a company insight on the prospects for sheepmeat.

    Irish sheep breeding has also made impressive progress in recent years

    The morning session includes three interesting presentations.

    Dr Philip Creighton will discuss grassland management, with a particular focus on developing practices that will increase flock productivity.

    Irish sheep breeding has also made impressive progress in recent years, with a reversal in the downward trend in maternal traits.

    Sheep Ireland's Kevin McDermott will review advancements made in recent years and will look at future plans.

    Anthelmintic resistance is a growing problem worldwide, with issues in sheep well documented. Problems are also emerging in cattle.

    Change of behaviour

    Preserving efficacy in anthelmintics will be critical to maintaining high levels of animal performance.

    Farmers will need to change their behaviour, with dosing carried out when it is required rather than routinely.

    The principles and practice of preserving anthelmintic efficacy in sheep will be discussed by Professor Eric Morgan of Queens University Belfast.

    Pre-registration is required and can be carried out at www.asaireland.ie/events/sheep-masterclass.

    The event is free for ASA members and costs €25 for non-members.

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