Hill sheep recording: Proposed details of the new Sheep Improvement Scheme, which will come in to effect under the next CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 can be found here.

A new element to the scheme compared to the Sheep Welfare Scheme is the proposal for farmers to purchase genotyped rams.

It is worth pointing out that the proposals have to be approved at EU level and it could be six to eight months into 2022 before the final document is approved.

It is still important however for farmers, in particular hill sheep farmers, producing rams for sale to assess how the genotyping requirement could influence their business as lambs born in spring 2022 will be hogget rams sold in 2023 under year one of the scheme.

Hill sheep farmers will be required over the course of the scheme to purchase one ram for flocks with less than 150 ewes and two for flocks with more than 150 ewes.

There are only a couple of hill sheep breeding groups currently genotyping animals in their flocks and those who are not genotyping should discuss options with their society representatives and Sheep Ireland. Small steps such as genotyping rams used to breed with ewes this season could deliver benefits down the line in capturing information and avoiding a situation where data is lost by rams not returning from the hill.

Ram lamb management: Flocks lambing in February have finished breeding, while flocks lambing in early March are also at an advanced stage. The manner in which ram lambs are managed through their first breeding season and in particular how they are managed post-breeding can have a big influence on longevity and lifetime performance.

Ram lambs should be removed from ewes once breeding has finished and those that have lost significant condition should be prioritised for preferential treatment. The same can be said of aged rams and now is the time to assess these in terms of breeding suitability for next year.

Grass supplies remain good and access to good-quality grass will generally be sufficient to support a recovery in body condition, but there is often also merit in offering concentrate supplementation for a short period.

An investment of €10 to €15 in concentrates will still go a long way in getting a ram that has lost significant condition back on the right track and is a small cost in terms of safeguarding your investment.

A low level of feeding at about 0.3kg for rams in medium-to-good body condition and 0.5kg for lambs that have lost significant condition will generally fast track the recovery process and ensure performance is not compromised.

Drafting lambs: The surge in finished lamb prices is also supporting significant price increases for store lambs. Given the strength of the trade, there is no excuse for light, under-fleshed lambs to be showing up in factory lairages. The best outlet for these sheep is a vibrant mart trade. The strength in demand for finished lambs should also encourage producers who are struggling to negotiate higher prices with factories to weigh up the best outlet to maximise the value of their lambs. Producers should also keep a good grasp on the trade, given the rate at which prices have increased in recent weeks.