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List of participants:

  • Tim Keady (Researcher)
  • Alan Bohan (Researcher)
  • Dwayne Shiels (Researcher)
  • Damien Costello (Agricultural advisor)
  • Darren Carty (Sheep specialist, Irish farmers journal)
  • John Brooks (Farmer/ sheep breeder)
  • John Renehan  (Farmer/ sheep breeder)
  • Seamus Fagan (Veterinarian)
  • John O’Rourke (Veterinarian)
  • Ken Matthews  (Farmer/ sheep breeder)
  • Anthony McShane (Farmer/ sheep breeder)
  • John Curley (Farmer/ sheep breeder)
  • James Dunne (Agricultural advisor)
  • John Lynskey (Farmer/ sheep breeder)


Tim welcomed everyone to the Fourth Irish national workshop and read out apologies from Michael Crosse, Brendan Joyce, Simon Byrne, Joe Ryan and Ciara Long who could not attend on the day. A summary of European sheep production and the role of SheepNet in improving European sheep production was given. Tim gave a recap on SheepNet, the aims of the programme and progress to date. Tim spoke about the “top-down, bottom-up” approach of SheepNet and where our members on the national committee fit into that approach. An outline of the agenda for the meeting was given.

Feedback from Sardinia

Alan gave a presentation on the TNWS in Sardinia and Italian sheep production discussing some of the key points such as the different production systems, breeds used and the variation in environment between systems. A presentation was also given by Alan on the farms visited and this was added to from the floor by those who had attended the TNWS in Sardinia. Alan discussed the different dairy production systems and cheese production systems on the farms visited.  There was a lot of input from the stakeholders who attended the TNWS in Sardinia and much discussion on the milk lamb production with drafting live weights of 10 kg.  There was much discussion among the group focusing on the forages used and the use of PLF on the Sardinian farms and this discussion was led by the farmers who attended the TNWS in Sardinia.


Farmer evaluations of purchased solutions

Tim explained that the four solutions purchased by the Irish delegation were evaluated by members of the Irish National workshop and each evaluator was going to give a short presentation on their experiences and thoughts of the solution tested. The first solution was the BCS toolkit which was tested by Damian Costello.

Damian Costello: The BCS toolkit worked very well in both advisory and educational settings. Damian felt the condition scores may need to be adjusted for Irish sheep. Darren Carty mentioned that they would be more suited to a classroom setting rather than being a tool for an individual farmer. John O’Rourke remarked that they were a good tool as it is often difficult to explain what a farmer should be feeling. He said that cows BCS is very easily explained using photographs which doesn’t work for sheep but the BCS toolkit was an option.  Damian stated that his colleagues in the advisory and educational departments were impressed with the solution and it will be utilised by Teagasc in the future when the adjustments are made.

Damian’s evaluation can be seen here:

The second solution tested was the Abortion Prevention and Control app. This solution was evaluated by both Seamus Fagan and Darren Carty. Seamus stated that the app was well structured and was very impressive with regard to the amount of information it contained. Darren said that he found the app design meant that he got confused using it and used the next buttons to go through all the slides rather than the desired use of the app which is to follow the web of links on the home screen.  Darren also felt that the abortion causes should start with how to deal with it at the time of an outbreak, as this is when the farmer is most likely to use the app. The current structure is that the vaccination programme is shown first.  Darren also suggested that the home page should contain a user guide. John Brooks stated that the first page of the app should state that a diagnosis of death is needed and that the app won’t diagnose a cause of abortion but rather how to manage and control it. Seamus Fagan stated that he would use the app in the future to help advice farmer on how to control abortion and Darren said he would use it in the future as well but felt it need modifications before going “public”.

Seamus’s evaluation can be seen here:

Darren’s evaluation can be seen here:

The third solution evaluated was the lamb mortality tally sheet. This solution was evaluated by John Renehan. John spoke about using the solution and how he felt it was a great way to record mortality and to look for trends and areas for improvement. He did state that although there was no standout cause of mortality on his farm this year he was happy to have a record of each cause. John said that although the tally sheet was good there were too many options and this meant space was limiting and the sheet was messy and hard to read at the end of lambing. He suggested that maybe a farmer could adjust it to suit his farm and reduce the number of mortality causes. John also pointed out that the solution would be much improved if there was a guide of what are acceptable and unacceptable levels of mortality for each cause. For example this could be done on a “per 100 ewes basis” so that when you reach 5% mortality due to abortion that is red flagged to the farmer. Seamus Fagan felt this was a good idea and that “red flag” could prompt the farmer to post mortem lambs to find a cause of death and address it. John also said that while the tally sheet worked well he did not like the post mortem sheet as he felt he wasn’t competent to do a post mortem and was happier to bring the lamb to a veterinary lab and have a proper post mortem completed. Over all John felt it was a good tool, but needed editing but he will continue to use it. John O’Rourke said he felt, as a vet, that it was a critically important tool for Irish farmers as the majority farmers don’t record lamb mortality or mortality cause.

John’s evaluation can be seen here:



The final solution to be tested was the testing of colostrum using a refractometer. This solution was tested by John Brooks and John Curley. John Brooks spoke about how robust, effective and user-friendly the refractometer was. He stated that nearly all of his ewes had reached the maximum of the scale (33% brix). John felt that the scale being used was too low for Irish sheep and that the assumption that above 24% brix was good quality colostrum was not good enough. James Dunne spoke about colostrum testing in dairy cows and that 24% brix is used in dairy cows. The consensus of the room was that the scale needs to be increased for Irish sheep with 30% brix being a minimum requirement. John Brooks said it was a “value for money” piece of equiptement that he would continue to use but will change it for a refractometer with a higher scale.

John Curley also said he was very impressed with how easy to use the refractometer was. He too had the issue of colostrum quality all being above the maximum reading of 33%. John O’Rourke commented that there may have been an effect of the exceptionally dry winter and high ewe body condition on the high colostrum quality readings. John Curley also said he felt the scale needs to be increased. He felt that being able to check colostrum quality reassured him that the flock nutrition was adequate and that lambs were receiving high quality colostrum and subsequent passive immunity. He stated that he will continue to use it and highlighted the other used of the refractometer such as testing footbath solution and grass sugar content. Both John Brooks and John Curley felt that this was a worthwhile solution and easy to implement.

John Curley’s evaluation can be seen here:

John Brooks’ evaluation can be seen here:

Presntation of PLF survey and voting in Sardinia


Alan presented the findings of the PLF survey as presented in Sardinia. This presentation discussed the number of survey participants from each country, their attitudes towards PLF and their aspirations for PLF in the future. The use of PLF was broken down by flock size, production system and farmer age. Alan discussed the level of PLF equiptement on the farms surveyed and the effect that the flock size and production system had on the type of equiptement used. The reasons for PLF use on farms were also presented along with the limiting factors to its wider implementation. The result of the vote at the Sardinian workshop was also presented, highlighting what PLF tools were most popular among European stakeholders.

There was much discussion around what PLF offers to Irish farmers and although there was a general consensus that PLF would improve flock management and reduce labour; the Irish stakeholders felt that it was not viable for the majority of Irish flocks due to the cost of PLF and the small average flock size in Ireland.

Meeting close

Tim mentioned that the Irish Transnational workshop would take place in Athlone on June 12th to 14th 2019. Tim also mentioned that the SheepNet seminar would take place in France on September 2nd to 5th 2019 and he asked for names of those interested in attending either or both of the events.

Tim Keady closed the meeting by highlighting the different means of communication used by SheepNet and provided links to all platforms to all in attendance. All participants were encouraged to register on the SheepNet website to receive regular updates and newsletters.

The different means of communication used by SheepNet are:

To receive the regular SheepNet newsletter, it is advised to create an online account on the SheepNet website.

All the solutions presented during the meeting are available on our SheepNet website, and the material can be downloaded.


Photos of the Irish national workshop 03th May 2019






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