Farmers in the middle of converting to organic farming or fully certified will be able to draw down maximum payments in the new sheep welfare scheme.

There were concerns from some farmers that the category B options – namely clostridial vaccination of ewes and plunge dipping to control external parasites, would not align with the aim of organic production.

While the overarching aim in organic production is to limit the use of veterinary medicines they can be used where there are any concerns over animal welfare and the farm’s vet recommends their use.

It is worth noting that the use of organophosphate-based dip is strictly prohibited, regardless of what is advised by your veterinary practitioner.

Therefore the only option when it comes to selecting dipping products is to use a non-organophosphate based dip. The only such dip on the market is Cyperguard.

Animal health plans

Organic certification bodies advise that animal health plans must be revised if necessary where external parasite control does not feature and the plan is now to undertake plunge dipping.

It is also advised that where a contractor with a mobile plunge dipping service is being used the invoice must clearly state the type of dip being used.

Dipping equipment must also be washed thoroughly to ensure there are no traces of any organophosphate dip. Withdrawal periods must be at least doubled in organic production so it is worth taking this in to account also when deciding which action to select.

Vaccine use

The use of vaccines is permitted in organic production but again this must be part of the farm’s animal health plan. Your veterinary practitioner must be in a position to state that sheep in your flock are at risk of succumbing to disease if they are not vaccinated.

As is the case with all vaccines or veterinary medicines, detailed records should be maintained with product invoices presented in the case of an inspection.

Applying for the new scheme

The application portal for the new National Sheep Welfare Scheme opened last week on 8 April. The following is a step-by-step guide to facilitate a straightforward application.

  • Once logged on to your portal, select the first heading ‘Agschemes – Applications for payment’. This will bring you to a home screen, allowing the application process to begin.
    • Select the National Sheep Welfare Scheme from both drop down menus and select ‘create claim’ in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.
    • The next process is selecting the scheme ‘payable number’. Here, applicants will be presented with the number of breeding ewes in 2020, 2021 and 2022 while the number presented on the 2023 sheep census will also be detailed.

      If you wish to opt for a lower number than the payable number then this should be entered in the box ‘updated payable number’. Once an application has been submitted it will not be possible to amend the reference number upwards.

    • The next step is selecting a scheme category A and category B option.

      The Department advises farmers to take care when selecting their actions as it will not be possible to change these once the application has been submitted.

    • Participants then have to declare that they agree with the 12 terms and conditions by ticking all 12 boxes.
    • The final step is submitting the application. Ensure that you see the message ‘submitted successfully’.

      Applicants will be able to view their application again but not alter it.

    • Registered farm partnerships

      Registered Farm Partnerships (RFP) applications to join the scheme can be submitted by a registered farm partnership.

      Scheme terms and condition state that an application from a RFP must be made under the RFP number.

      Applicants registered under farm partnership registration are required to submit one application for participation in the National Sheep Welfare Scheme using the farm partnership number.

      The payable number for individual members of the farm partnership can be reduced in the same manner as an individual application, if it is considered that the payable number determined for that flock is no longer appropriate.

      How to apply

      All applications under the scheme must be submitted online through the online portal by scanning this QR code:

      Timelines for clostridial disease vaccination

      There have been many queries received on timelines for the clostridial vaccination of ewes action. Where ewes have received their annual booster or a full vaccination course pre-lambing in 2024 then this will satisfy the requirements of the scheme – provided the number vaccinated corresponds with the payable number.

      We are awaiting clarification from the Department for farmers selecting the alternative option of vaccinating lambs if all lambs born in 2024 need to be treated or a number corresponding to the payable number.

      There has also been a number of queries regarding the timeframe for administering the vaccine.

      Clostridial disease vaccination can take place any time after lambs turn three weeks of age. It is not advised to administer the vaccine before this age as it can interfere with maternally derived antibodies. The risk of clostridial diseases or pasteurella can hit lambs at any age with reports often most prevalent in high performing lambs.

      The decision if selecting this option will boil down to achieving the best return on your investment as lambs must receive a full course – i.e. a primary vaccine followed by a booster. The earlier the vaccine is given in this regard, the greater the benefit will be.

      Vaccinated ewes

      While on the subject of vaccination, maternally derived antibodies for pasteurella start to wane when lambs reach three to four weeks of age.

      Protection lasts longer against clostridial diseases and typically starts to wane once lambs reach eight to 10 weeks of age. Outbreaks can occur before this age where there is an unusually high risk in the environment.

      The typical timeframe recommended for administering the clostridial disease vaccine to lambs born to vaccinated ewes is at eight to 10 weeks of age.

      A single dose will deliver a low short-term level of protection with a booster shot required to achieve optimum protection.

      It is wise to consider earlier vaccination in lambs reared artificially that may not have received sufficient ewe colostrum.