The number of eligible hill rams available for the genotyped ram action in the Sheep Improvement Scheme should be more than capable of satisfying demand.

This was the view of Sheep Ireland manager Kevin McDermott, speaking at last week’s Donegal IFA county executive sheep meeting.

Kevin told farmers that thousands of hill rams had been genotyped in recent months and that sourcing of rams should not be an issue in 2023.

There was keen interest from a large number of farmers in attendance, with the meeting venue on Figart Farm a good setting to discuss hill breeding. The farm is run by the McHugh family of Dunfanaghy, who are well-known breeders of Cheviot, Suffolk Cheviot-cross and Texel sheep.

SIS hill requirements

Kevin reminded farmers in attendance of the genotyped ram action for hill sheep producers. Hill flocks have two options for purchasing a ram. If selecting a hill breed ram, then the ram must be DNA sire verified (genotyped) by Sheep Ireland and be classified as Type 1, 2 or 3 for Scrapie at the time of purchase.

The second option available to hill farmers is the same as the requirement for lowland producers. This is to purchase a ram rated four or five star on the Replacement or Terminal Index and have a genomic evaluation with Sheep Ireland at the time of purchase.

These rams must also be classified as Type 1, 2 or 3 for Scrapie status.

Kevin advised farmers that hill sheep society sales held in the coming weeks will include details on ram eligibility. The catalogue entries will include at a minimum the sire of the ram on offer and the Scrapie status.

Depending on the level of information available, it may also include dam details. Eligible rams will also possess a green tick and the words ‘SIS: Yes’.

Ram search

Where farmers are purchasing rams direct off farm or through sales where no catalogue is available, then the Sheep Ireland ram search ( can now also be used to verify a hill ram’s eligibility.

Where €uroStar information is available for the ram in question, then this will be detailed, but where the sheep has not been performance recorded as part of LambPlus then a red exclamation mark will be present to denote that the flock is not a LambPlus member.

The ram search will still however detail the SIS eligibility and associated information including breeder details. There are a number of search facility options including searching the database by breed, county or by animal ID.

The date of the latest evaluation will also be displayed.

Huge potential

Kevin says there is huge potential for hill sheep breed societies to build on the demand for genotyped rams and to implement a performance recording programme. A number of breeds including the Donegal Cheviot and Mayo Connemara Blackface Sheep have now adopted performance recording, and Kevin says the benefits are already becoming apparent in these societies.

Another tip delivered by Kevin is that breeders planning to sell SIS eligible rams should immediately genotype any new ram they are using in their flock. This guards against the risk of rams going missing or dying and their DNA being lost, which in turn will prevent their progeny from entering the scheme.