Great opportunity for the Hill sector to keep on improving.
Presently Sheep Ireland has two hill flock books recording with them; the Mayo-Connemara ram group and the Donegal Wicklow Cheviot group. There is also a small number of individual hill farmers doing their recording across several breeds.
These groups record the same level of data as that of lowland pedigree breeders. Which includes the following.
- Tagging lambs at birth
- Assigning parentage
- Lambing data including date of birth, lamb mortality, and Birth weights
- Annual weight performance.
The development of these flock books has led to their inclusion in Teagasc research trills over the last few years.
With the SIS hill farmers are now actively looking for sire verified rams. Parentage and scrapie information are now a sought after commodity and at the forefront of ram producers’ minds and discussions.
There are currently seventeen different hill ram groups nationally that run ram sales. In 2023, nine of these groups ran their catalogues through the Sheep Ireland National Database. This was a huge step forward for the sector with many purchasers and breeders alike delighted with the extra information available to them when purchasing their rams. The vast majority of this information was gathered from the genotyping carried out by the farmers to have their rams qualify for SIS.
Something that has been raised to a very large degree by hill groups, is the issue of poor mouths on hill sheep. This is an area that a sheep is highly scrutinized for in the hill sector. Premature loss of incisor teeth (broken mouth) is a major problem leading to early involuntary culling because affected sheep are unable to bite off short and/or rough pasture leading to malnutrition, poor production, and weight loss.
Watch this video about how this information is being recorded:
Sheep Ireland has been actively recording mouths of hill sheep in both recording groups since 2021 with over 2,800 records currently obtained, and more to follow in 2023. Examination of incisor teeth alignment was performed by running an index finger along the dental pad, with the sheep’s mouth closed and the head held in the normal resting position. This examination will reveal any teeth projecting forward or backward of the normal contact on the dental pad.
Each sheep also got a visual inspection of its mouth by moving both the top and bottom lip to reveal the animals full dental bad. Sheep were scored as Normal, Overshot, Undershot, and Broken.
Continued research in this area is ongoing. The hope is that mouth issues currently in hill sheep have a level of heritability and an index for the trait can be developed.
The targets for future development over the next 12 months are as follows:
- Increase the knowledge of what Sheep Ireland can do for the sector and continue to build up the trust and confidence of hill farmers.
- Have a much higher percentage of hill breeds running flock books.
- Have flocks’ performance recording (Parentage, weaning weight, recording culls).
- Develop an index for Hill sheep, with data recorded from Hill flocks
- Continue recording mouths of Hill Sheep.
In conclusion, the Hill sector is facing a great opportunity to improve genetic gains thanks to the impulse of the SIS, with services being provided by Sheep Ireland and research being done by Teagasc. This will be again a demonstration that the Irish Sheep industry working together is committed to keep on improving across all the production systems.