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Abiding By The Sheep Welfare Scheme Reference Number

By Darren Carty on 13 July 2017

Link: Farmers Journal : http://www.farmersjournal.ie/abiding-by-the-sheep-welfare-scheme-reference-number-292040

The sheep welfare scheme reference number must be maintained for the full year to achieve the maximum payment.


Under the rules of the scheme the reference number of sheep must be maintained on a year-round basis. 
A reminder on aspects of the sheep welfare scheme in the management notes section a couple of weeks ago raised some questions from farmers relating to the requirement to maintain the reference number of animals on a year-round basis.

Some farmers were of the understanding that once the number was met on average over the 12 months that it would suffice, while others thought the number could fluctuate as long as the total number of ewes available for breeding and recorded annually in the sheep census matched the reference number set.

Reference number rule

Given the uncertainty and the fact that the scheme is still in year one, it is worth clarifying the reference number rule. The reference number is the average of the number of breeding ewes (over 12 months of age) recorded in the 2014 and 2015 sheep census.

For example, if a farmer had 100 ewes recorded in the 2014 census and 150 in the 2015 census, the reference number set is 125 ewes.

The only exception to this is where a reference number was set on the basis of an appeal (force majeure, new entrants etc).

For the purpose of this example, it is assumed the farmer has returned at least 125 ewes in his most recent census. If this most recent census figure is lower than the 2014/2015 average, then this becomes the reference number for payment and retention in that year.

If we stick with our example above, in this case 125 is the maximum number of ewes that the farmer will be paid for each year of the scheme. If he/she wants to maximise their payment, they must retain 125 eligible animals.

Options for trading ewes

For those that wish to sell ewes, there are a few options that allow ewes to be traded while still satisfying the requirement.

The first is where 2016-born hoggets are present on the farm, as these can be included in the reference number count.Hoggets do not have to have lambed in 2017. For example, if there are 25 hoggets on the farm then they will allow 25 ewes to be sold while still achieving the maximum payment.

The second is purchasing replacements (mature ewes or hoggets) in advance of moving cull ewes off the farm

The third is selling the ewes that you wish to trade and notifying the Department of Agriculture that you have reduced below your reference number.

For example, if you do not usually purchase replacements until later in the year but want to sell ewes earlier, you can do so and contact the Departments Sheep Welfare Scheme section to notify them that this has taken place.

Again, if we use the example above and 20 ewes are sold, you can reduce your payment for 2017 to being based on 105 ewes.

This will not affect the reference number in subsequent years and it will revert to 125 ewes for 2018.

Some farmers have asked what are the implications of failing to notify the Department of any reduction to the reference number and this being identified in an inspection?

In such a case the payment received would be based on 85 eligible animals – ie the number of animals found at inspection will be reduced by the difference between this number and the reference number.

All such reductions will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, for example, where genuine animal welfare issues have arisen.

The Departments Sheep Welfare Scheme section can be notified by emailing sheepscheme@agriculture.gov.ie or sending a note to the Sheep Welfare Scheme section, DAFM,

Parasite control

Some queries also related to laboratories that can be used to carry out a faecal egg count under the measure of parasite control.

The approved laboratories are listed on the Department’s website, with the current listing detailed in Table 1. Note that the result of the faecal egg count denotes the need for dosing animals and where a dose is required, animals should be treated.

Mineral supplementation pre-weaning

Some farmers have again asked what is the appropriate period of time to administer mineral supplementation pre-weaning.

The Department states that minerals should be administered that are suitable to the farm and that are the minerals in which animals are deficient.

For example, in some farms with a known mineral deficit, minerals may need to be administered for four to six weeks pre-weaning to maintain animal performance, while for others cobalt supplementation for a period pre-weaning may suffice.

As stated a couple of weeks ago, it is important to ensure minerals purchased are from an approved manufacturer and that the product clearly lists the cover given and the length of time it provides supplementation for.

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