Wool handling

Features included in the week’s focus on sheep handling, dipping and tagging look at ways of increasing the value of wool, and market prospects for 2022.

There are unfortunately not many bright shoots on the horizon, and some merchants state the low value of wool in recent seasons has in some cases led to a marked deterioration in the manner in which wool is presented.

A number of collection centres have temporarily or permanently exited the business. Some other merchants report that the deterioration in quality is compounding challenges in processing and trading wool.

Some merchants, or those in charge of collection centres, say that they have taken steps such as individually bagging, identifying or segregating wool on intake to be in a position to follow up on significant issues.

Many merchants are also requesting that Scottish Blackface wool be packed separately to other breeds due to its significantly lower value.

The most concerning situation is damp wool being delivered as this will heat, rot and become worthless. Failing to remove dags will also significantly affect quality, while care should be taken to try and avoid contamination of fleeces with hay, straw, wood shavings etc.

It is important to also discuss the nutrient value in wool for those considering composting lower value wool. When mixed in with material such as farm yard manure, wool will decompose in a matter of months in the optimum environment.

Tagging procedures

This week’s focus looks at new tagging rules that will affect some flock owners. On that topic, each year issues relating to tagging and sheep identification are responsible for a significant number of non-compliances identified during the course of inspections.

Issues of note in terms of tagging include an excessive number of sheep missing one or two tags. An animal missing two tags can have implications on movement restrictions, while the terms and conditions of the Sheep Welfare Scheme highlight that sheep found to be missing two tags in the case of an inspection cannot be used in the flock reference number count.

Other discrepancies include farm-to-farm movements not being recorded correctly, while a failure to maintain an up-to-date flock register is also a significant contributor.

The manner in which tags are applied can have a big influence on retention rates. Button tags should be applied midway in the height of the ear, taking care to avoid cartilage (which can be seen on the underside of the ear) and at a distance of about one-third of the way along the animal’s ear, measuring from the head out.

The tag should be able to rotate to leave room for air to circulate, and in sheep with thicker ears this may need to be altered.

For wrap around tags, manufacturers advise leaving 4-5mm of room between the edge of the ear and the tag for ear growth. This is to ensure tags do not become too tight as animals age.

In terms of location, the advice is to apply wraparound tags at the top of the ear and similar to a button tag, about a third of the distance out from the head, taking care not to pierce cartilage.

Tagging should take place when animals are dry and in hygienic conditions, taking care to restrain animals correctly to prevent damage to ears and larger piercings.