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The Sheep Welfare Scheme (SWS) is a scheme under the Animal Welfare Measure of the Rural Development Programme (RDP 2014 -2020). It was introduced to contribute to the continued development in animal and health welfare in the sheep sector and requires farmers to go beyond the relevant mandatory standards to enhance the standards of animal welfare in the Irish sheep flock. A total of €100m was allocated to the scheme, which was introduced in early 2017. The total monies spent under the scheme up to December 2018 was nearly €34m (this figure includes full payment under year one of the scheme and advance payment for year two of the scheme.

The scheme is applicable to breeding ewes and provides targeted support to make a positive a contribution to sheep welfare. In January 2019, the scheme had 18,901 active participants with a combined total of 1,754,561 breeding ewes. The average flock size per farmer in the scheme is approximately 94 ewes.

The scheme participants are classified as “lowland” flocks accounting for 56% while “highland flocks” account for 44%. Counties Donegal, Mayo and Galway have the highest uptake of the scheme with 3,289, 2,775 and 2,229 farmers actively participating in the scheme.

Under the SWS, participants are required to select two actions from a menu of options. Farmers are required to select one action from category A and one action from category B. Where farmers are compliant with the terms and conditions, they will be provided with a payment of €10 per breeding ewe. The most popular action selected among farmers under category A is “mineral supplementation ewes post mating” and “scanning” under category B.

Raymond Langan from Co. Mayo is an active participant in the SWS scheme and selected ‘Mineral Supplementation Ewes post mating’ and ‘Parasite Control’ for his farm. “A good body condition score at mating and mineral supplementation post mating helps the ewes to lamb with ease. As an uphill farmer I find it is beneficial to supplement ewes post mating to ensure the flock has the necessary intake of vitamins and minerals crucial for the formation of healthy lambs. I try to maintain a low input system on my farm. ‘Parasite Control’ can be costly and I try to reduce this where possible on my farm”. Raymond selected faecal egg counts as a measure under the SWS to identify if problematic parasites were present within his flock. Dung samples from 15 – 20 lambs only must be collected and analysed for parasites. Knowing the faecal egg count of dung samples provides a clear indication on the level of infection and this can be used as a decision support tool to target antimicrobic usage.

“I discuss the tests results with my vet and we take corrective action to improve flock health in a sustainable manner”. Sustainability is a key part of management decisions on Raymond’s farm. The parasitic control action help Raymond identify what parasites are present and if they are problematic within the flock. Targeted antimicrobics can then be administered to combat the problem. To find out more about the SWS visit: www.agriculture.gov.ie/farmerschemespayments.