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Towards 4,000 mouth recordings in Hill flocks

Sheep Ireland has been actively recording mouths of hill sheep since 2021.

Presently Sheep Ireland has two hill flockbooks recording; 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.

Examination of incisor teeth alignment is 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 gets a visual inspection of its mouth by moving both the top and bottom lip to reveal the animals full dental bad.

Sheep are scored as; Normal, Overshot, Undershot, and Broken.

Why is important to record:

  • The aim is that in time together with flockbook ancestry we can develop an INDEX for mouth record.
  • Hill groups will be contributing by creating their Flockbooks with Sheep Ireland.
  • Sheep Ireland is committed to work for the Hill sheep sector.

What are we looking at recording?

  • Something that has been raised to a very large degree from hill groups is the aim of selecting against poor mouths on hill sheep.
  • Rams and Ewes and constantly assessed for their mouths, when purchasing a ram for breeding, or when assessing ewes to go for breeding and back on the hill.

Mouth recording

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.

Normal mouth:

  • The example (picture ) shows an ideal mouth, with all teeth straight, evenly proportioned and coming into contact with the dental pad.

Overshot mouth:

  • This is down to jaw alignment.
  • Teeth protrude out past the dental pad.
  • This make it difficult for sheep to graze correctly.
  • This jaw movement may be causes by the continuous grazing of tightly grazed pasture with tough high fibre vegetation common on hill land.

Undershot mouth:

  • Shortness of the lower jaw.
  • Teeth are fair back in the mouth and not coming into contact with the dental pad.
  • Not as common in hill sheep. Was found in the odd sheep.
  • I each case of an undershot Jaw the animal had this mouth defect since birth.

Broken mouth:

  • One of the most common causes for culling on a hill farm.
  • You will see spaces coming between each tooth, this exposes the already decaying teeth.
  • In most cases the teeth begin to fall out.
  • This can have a very negative effect on ewe performance.