Maintaining the requisite number of breeding ewes for the new Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS), the consequences farmers could face if not and where they could make up a shortfall in ewe numbers was discussed at a recent seminar.

A sheep seminar, held in Co. Roscommon recently, saw a presentation delivered on the SIS followed by a number of questions from the floor.

One such question regarded the reference number of ewes for the scheme.

Scheme reference number

For existing sheep farmers, the scheme reference number will be based on the average of the three highest census return values of eligible breeding ewes over the years 2016–2021.

Speaking and answering questions from the floor on the SIS reference number, Teagasc’s James Kelly said: “You will all have a reference number and just say you have 120 ewes and that is your reference number and you decide next year that you will cut back to 100 ewes.

“In that instance you will have to inform the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), in writing to [email protected], that you will be only holding onto 100 ewes that year.

“When you do that, your new reference number will become 100.

“What happens if you don’t notify the DAFM that you are keeping fewer ewes is, if you get an inspection and your reference number is 120 but you only have 100 ewes on the farm, there will be a penalty.

“So if the ewe numbers on the farm aren’t in line with the reference figure that the DAFM have, that’s where issues will come about.”

Ewe lambs

Kelly said that where ewe numbers have fallen for one reason or another, these ewes can be replaced by ewe lambs bred on the farm that are being kept as replacements once they are 12 months of age.

He said: “In the instance where there are ewe lambs bred on the farm and they are being kept as replacements, once the ewe lambs are over 12 months of age, they can qualify as breeding ewes.

“So where your breeding your own ewe lambs they can be included with the ewes on the farm to fulfil the reference figure you had been given from the outset of the scheme if you so wish to maintain that number or to make up any shortfall of ewes.

“One big mistake I have seen which can have knock-on effects is in relation to the sheep census, if it isn’t sent in on time. There were cases where one or two farmers sent it in late, just the way it can happen sometimes, and they were knocked out of the last year of the Sheep Welfare Scheme.

“So make sure to fill in your sheep census forms and on time.”

The deadline for submission of online sheep census forms is next Tuesday (February 14), but the deadline for letter submissions by post passed.

‘If you go down in numbers you can go back up’

Kelly said that he understands that with the SIS, that if you do cut back ewe numbers and as result your reference number – once you notify the DAFM – changes, you can go back up to the reference number that you had been allocated originally.

He said: “So take the example of 120 ewes. If you had 120 but you drop back down to 100 ewes one year, you need to notify the DAFM.

“However, the following year, if you so wish, you can go back up to that 120 ewe reference number again. Once more, you will have to notify the DAFM of this.”