Over 6,000 participants have opted to complete the genotyped ram action in year one, so it is no surprise that there are plenty of questions cropping up at present.

We have received a high number of reader queries and these have been answered by Sheep Ireland manager Kevin McDermott.

If you have any further questions, you can send them to farmtechtalks@farmersjournal.ie or WhatsApp 086-836 6465.

Q&A with Kevin McDermott

Q. Will there be enough rams available to meet demand in 2023?

A. Sheep Ireland is working closely with breeders and hill breeding groups to maximise the number of eligible rams available this year. There have already been 4,000 genotype kits ordered and 3,000 of these were returned.

We are encouraging breeders of lowland rams to genotype at least three-, four- and five-star rams in their flocks, to maximise numbers eligible for the scheme.

We are working closely with hill sheep breeds and organising a further round of DNA collection days at the end of July - hill ram breeders should contact their breeding group about their next DNA collection day.

As sheep producers start to source rams, this will also entice breeders who have not carried out genotyping to date to act. Farmers should contact the Department if they encounter any issue with purchasing an eligible ram in the year selected.

Any requests to change the year selected to carry out the genotyped ram action will be reviewed by the Department on a case-by-case basis.

Q. Do I have to purchase a genotyped ram lamb or will hogget or older rams suffice?

A. There is no age limit on rams, but remember, they must satisfy the scheme requirements on the day of purchase.

Q. I always purchase four- and five-star rams and have five rams in my flock. If I genotype one of these, will they satisfy the scheme requirements?

A. Rams already in your flock will not suffice for you. As per the terms and conditions of the scheme, a ram must be purchased in the year that you selected when submitting your application.

Q. I am selling a two- or three-year-old ram, as I am tweaking my breeding policy and opted to purchase a ram in year one. The two rams I am considering selling are still rated four- or five-star on the terminal index on the ram search facility. Could I genotype these rams to make them more saleable or is it only pedigree breeders that can produce these rams? What is the cost of this?

A. Yes, provided the rams were performance-recorded through LambPlus, any producer can genotype sheep from their flock if the ram is rated as a four- or five-star and scrapie type I/II/III following genotyping and on the date of sale, they will be deemed eligible for the scheme. The cost of genotyping is €24.60/animal.

Q. What proof do I need to submit to the Department to show that I have purchased the required ram?

A. There is no requirement to send any documentation to the Department. If a flock is inspected, then you must be in a position to show that you purchased an eligible ram. The dispatch document proves that you purchased the ram.

In terms of proving that the ram was eligible, a sale catalogue for the date the animal was purchased is one option, as information in the catalogue is extracted from the Sheep Ireland database.

Some breeders or purchasers or rams are screenshoting or printing the ram’s genetic evaluation on the date of purchase.

As long as you can prove you purchased the ram on a particular date, you will be able to check the eligibility of the ram on that date on the Sheep Ireland Ramsearch facility.

Q. I was a participant in the Beef Data and Genomics Programme and the ruling there was that if a bull was genotyped as a four- or five-star they maintained their eligibility for life, as far as I know. Does the same apply in the sheep scheme?

A. The terms and conditions of the Sheep Improvement Scheme relate to the star rating on the day the animal is purchased.

For example, if a genotyped ram is purchased as a five-star on 20 July 2023, then the ram will satisfy the flock’s requirement for 2023.

If that ram dropped to a three-star ram in 2025 and was sold in 2025, then it would not be eligible for the scheme.

If the ram was rated as a three-star following genotyping and subsequently increased to a four- or five-star in subsequent evaluations, then they would be eligible to meet the scheme requirements for the new purchaser.

Q. Is there a minimum length of time that a ram must be maintained?

A. There is no minimum length of time specified in the terms and conditions. These state that a ram must be purchased for use in the flock. Once this requirement has passed, then the ram can be sold if you wish to do so.

Q. How often does a ram’s genetic evaluation change?

A. This is an important question. Genetic evaluations take place on a weekly basis, so there is a chance that a ram’s evaluation could change.

It is, therefore, important to check the status of rams on the Sheep Ireland Ramsearch, on the date of purchase, if it is not printed in a sale catalogue on that day.

Q. Are all rams listed on the Ramsearch facility available for sale?

A. The filter search only displays ram lambs or hoggets that are recorded as being in the flock they were born in.

Once a ram is sold, a breeder should remove this ram from the flock and this will remove them from the filter search.

All performance-recorded rams can still be subsequently found by using the filter ‘Search by ID’, but rams which have been sold should be removed from the active listing.

Q. I cannot remember my reference number and what year I opted to purchase a ram. Is there a way I can easily find this?

A. This information can be found by logging on to your agfood.ie account, clicking on to ‘Ag Schemes – Sheep Improvement Scheme’. This will present a pop-up box with contact details for the Department.

When you close this, there will be a list detailing your application. There are three dots to the right of this, and clicking on them will trigger another pop-up giving the option to view your application, which states your reference number and the year you opted to purchase a ram.

Q. Where can I find scheme-eligible rams and what do I need to check to ensure they are eligible?

A. Breeders will be marketing rams through society and general mart sales and also in direct farm sales.

Image one (right) shows the way rams will be listed in catalogue sales. The box in the top right of the listing will show if the ram has been genotyped and is scheme eligible. Buyers should look out for the green tick and words ‘SIS: Yes’.

Where rams are included in a sale catalogue and purchased on the day of the sale, then this is taken as proof that the ram is eligible on that day.

Where rams are being purchased through sales where there is no catalogues or directly from the farm, then the latest information on that ram can be obtained from the Ramsearch facility.

This is an excellent resource that allows you to search by breed, county, etc. When you click on a ram through the search facility scheme, eligibility will be shown through a green box and a tick for SIS.