Silage quality and ewe condition: This week’s Northern Ireland Sheep Programme feature is a report on last week’s webinar and details advice on optimum winter feeding programmes.

At the event CAFRE adviser Rachel Megarrell told farmers there was never a more important year to get silage tested given the financial benefits of minimising mortality and the value of formulating winter diets based on sound information.

Rachel encouraged farmers to get silage tested well in advance of when it will be required so that adequate time is available to make alternative arrangements if silage is of very poor quality. She advised farmers to take advantage of silage analysis services offered by advisory bodies and feed merchants and to take samples on a regular basis where there is any variability envisaged.

The value of having ewes in good body condition was also highlighted. This body condition should be viewed as a resource that can be exploited in early lactation to drive performance and reduce supplementary feed costs.

Care should be taken to ensure ewes remain on a maintenance diet in mid-pregnancy and entering in to late gestation as utilising body condition reserves during this period is a poor use of a valuable resource. Silage in the region of 68 to 70DMD or ewes cleaning off grass paddocks will satisfy maintenance demands.

Sheep welfare scheme payment: There is some confusion among farmers as to the level of payment they received last week under the Sheep Welfare Scheme.

Some farmers have not read the correspondence received from the Department about 10 days ago and think the proposed payment rate of €12/ewe in the next Sheep Improvement Scheme has already come in to effect.

The payment rate of €10 per ewe is unchanged and the higher payment some farmers are receiving is due to the fact that the reference number for the 2021 and 2022 payment year will be based on the higher of ewe numbers recorded on the 2017 census return or the original reference year figure which is the average of ewe numbers recorded on the 2014 and 2015 census returns.

Speaking on a Teagasc sheep breeding webinar on Tuesday Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said his Department chose 2017 as the new reference year as it delivered the highest increase in payments for all participants.

He said that no decision has been made on what reference year will be selected for the Sheep Improvement Scheme which is proposed to begin in 2023 but did say the same focus would be used whereby the reference year delivers the greatest financial benefit to farmers while still being relevant to current flock numbers.

Farmers continue to have the facility to reduce ewe numbers below the reference figure if required, with this figure becoming the new level on which payment is based. Numbers can be increased in subsequent years, with the payment rate reverting to the higher figure.

Farmers who have reduced numbers are advised to inform the Department by sending a note outlining the change in numbers to the Sheep Welfare Scheme Section, DAFM, Government Offices, Old Abbeyleix Road, Portlaoise, Co Laois, or by emailing

The advice related to hill sheep farmers and genotyping from the webinar will be covered on next week’s sheep pages.