Drafting ewe hoggets: Factory hogget quotes are running anywhere from €1.20/kg to €1.50/kg ahead of the corresponding period in 2023, while live prices for heavier hoggets are running on average €30 to €35 higher. The strength of the trade is giving rise to reports of farmers starting to cash in on ewe hoggets which were purchased with the option of slaughtering in early 2024, or potentially retaining until autumn breeding sales.

There are also more reports of farmers who purchased hoggets firm in the mind of retaining until breeding sales now reviewing their decision. This is a wise move as it is good practice to review the quality of hoggets on hand, even if a decision is taken to retain numbers. Many farmers in a dry hogget system require numbers to meet stocking rate requirements or for land management.

Decisions do not, however, need to be across the entire flock, and it may be a case of capitalising on the opportunity to draft a percentage of poor-quality types that may not have performed as expected, persistently lame etc and which will struggle to grow into the type of hogget that would normally sell well.

Some producers think that there may be a better trade for ewe hoggets this autumn if higher numbers of yearlings are drafted now. This may well be the case, but it should still not stop the exercise of reviewing quality. Where a decision is taken to draft off some hoggets, the next question then becomes suitability for slaughter.

Many such sheep are run over the winter with minimum inputs, and therefore may be lacking flesh. Industry forecasts predict keen demand for hoggets over the next month to six weeks, with Ramadan starting on 10 March and finishing on 9 April, and Easter Sunday in between – falling on 31 March. This gives a good window to allocate preferential treatment and put condition on ewe hoggets.

SIS new entrants: The deadline for new entrants to apply to the Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS) is 5pm on 29 February 2024. A new entrant for the purposes of the SIS has two definitions. They can be an applicant who has applied for a new flock number within the period from 1 December 2020 to 31 December 2023.

Or a new entrant can also be an applicant with an existing flock number who has not held or traded in sheep for a three-year period from 1 December 2020 to 30 November 2023. Applications must be submitted through agfood.ie via the SIS portal.

Many applications will receive the message that the Department does not currently hold sheep census information for your application, and that it will review your application once it has been submitted. The Department will make direct contact regarding your reference number following this review. Payment under the scheme is set at €12 per ewe.

Insurance policy: Given the continued high number of dog attacks on sheep it is wise to check if your insurance policy covers dog attacks. This is a flexible cover provided by many insurance companies to cover fatal animal injuries, but it is usually not applied as standard and has to be added to the premium.

It is important in the case of any dog attack to report it to the relevant authorities and collect photographic evidence which may be required at a later date.