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Applying for a flock number: What you need to know

In this week’s article, That’s Farming, looks at how to apply for a flock number, supports for new entrant sheep farmers and top tips. We discuss kick-starting your sheep farming career, subsidies available, and some points to consider when establishing your flock.

A flock number is a number which is designated exclusively for sheep, issued by the Regional Veterinary Office (RVO) to a flock for the purpose of disease control.

The DAFM issues a flock number to an individual acting as a keeper, who is responsible for the animals.

The keeper is identified as the person responsible for the care of animals under disease eradication and control schemes.

This individual, to whom the flock number is assigned to, is also responsible for complying with animal identification regulations, in addition to record-keeping for the flock.

The application process

In the first instance, you should submit two forms to your local RVO to lodge an application for a flock number.

These forms are available from the RVO nearest to you, or alternatively, you can find them on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s website.

The forms – which the interested flock owner should complete – are:

  • Form ER1: Diseases eradication schemes;
  • Form ER1.1: Herdowner application.

Moreover, in the instance you are already a registered herd owner for cattle only, but wish to purchase sheep, you should complete an ER1.1 only.

In addition to this, it is advisable to notify the RVO of your intention to purchase sheep.

Following this, you will receive a flock register from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Meeting the criteria

Following submission of your ER1 and ER1.1 to the local RVO, an on-farm inspection will take place.

During the inspection, the Regional Veterinary Officer will assess the following elements of the farm enterprise:

  • Machinery is not shared between two farms;
  • Feeding and watering facilities are not shared between two farms;
  • Sheep handling facilities are exclusive to your farm;
  • There are no entry points between farms, i.e. to access a neighbouring farm.
  • Fencing should be entirely stockproof to prevent mixing of flocks;
  • Entrance to the holding should be exclusive to your flock.

In January 2022, Minister McConalogue confirmed the opening of Year 6 of the Sheep Welfare Scheme.

The Sheep Welfare Scheme provides a valuable support to sheep farmers for undertaking actions to make a positive contribution to flock welfare.

Furthermore, dependent on whether your flock was hill or low-land based, you would have received €10/ewe, based on your census figures. However, this scheme is now closed to new applicants.

In January 2023, the Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS) will commence. The aim of this intervention is to provide support for actions that improve animal health and welfare in the sheep sector.

The SIS will contribute to improved welfare through targeted interventions in lameness control, parasite control, genetic improvement, flystrike and appropriate supplementation.

It is proposed that the payment rate will be €12 per eligible breeding ewe. The calculations for this scheme are based on costs incurred minus the net economic benefit associated with the actions.

The transaction cost of 20% of the total cost per ewe is included in the calculations.

In addition to the SIS, once you have an established flock number, you are eligible to apply for the Basic Payment Scheme.

In the instance that you are a young, qualified farmer, you may also be eligible to apply for the Young Farmers Scheme and National Reserve. This will include an allocation of entitlements, as well as a top-up premia.

Sourcing foundation stock

New entrants to sheep farming should initially analyse the market in which they are entering, and, ultimately the profit potential, in addition to labour requirements.

To start off your flock, it is vital to source the correct foundation stock for your farm.

According to Teagasc, to justify a return for your time and effort, a net margin of €40-50/ewe at a stocking rate of 10 ewes per ha will result in a net margin of €400-500/ha excluding premia.

Figures such as these are not achievable unless the mature ewe flock has the potential to provide 2.0 lambs/ewe put to the ram.

Furthermore, purchasing your foundation stock from a reputable flock will provide you with the opportunity to kick-start a prolific, productive flock.

Manage your grass

In a successful sheep enterprise, grassland management is vital. Fencing is crucial where you are grazing sheep, in which all fences should be of stock-proof structure.

Usually, a 3-week rotation system works best, alongside an awareness of the correct pre and post-grazing heights.

According to Teagasc, feed costs can be reduced by 40% on a flexible system where high DMD silage can be obtained from paddocks to maintain grass quality.

In addition to this, best practice is to establish a nutrient management plan for the farm, based on soil sampling.

The aim of establishing such a plan is by growing enough grass for the livestock, as well as incorporating a liming programme where necessary.

Management of disease

The Irish sheep population is increasing in the number of disease incidents nationwide.

While some diseases at visible at purchase, others are not visible at the time of purchase, and can spread quite rapidly and aggressively throughout the flock through time.

Furthermore, sourcing your establishment flock from a reputable farmer, with a high health status is the most important initial step in your sheep farming career.

When purchasing stock, a quarantine procedure can reduce the risk of spreading disease throughout the flock.

This procedure may involve housing for 48 hours, retained separate from other sheep on the farm, and provided with a dose for fluke, worms and scab.

Finally, be prepared for what you are about to embark on in your sheep farming career.

Experience gained through working and visiting existing successful sheep farmers can be invaluable.

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