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Teagasc Launch New Sheep Programme

Teagasc launched a new Sheep Research and Knowledge Transfer programme at an event in Teagasc, Mellows Campus, Athenry, Co. Galway, yesterday, 3 October.

The new programme will support the 30,000 Irish sheep farmers, who keep a national breeding flock of 2.5 million ewes, and will assist them to increase efficiency at farm level, increase production nationally, and increase the level of Irish exports of sheep meat. The Food Harvest 2020 report has set a target of increasing the output of the sheep sector by 20%.

A new Sheep Research Demonstration Farm of 350 breeding ewes has been set up on the Teagasc campus in Athenry. On this farm the focus will be on prolific sheep, with an aim of increasing the national weaning rate from the current national average of 1.3 lambs per ewe. Two groups of sheep with different levels of prolificy, will be evaluated at three different stocking rates to determine the optimum level.

The Sheep BETTER farm programme, which consists of commercial sheep farms used for research and knowledge transfer, is being expanded to 10 farms, spread geographically around the country. The data gathered from these commercial farms will be used to improve efficiency on other commercial farms around the country.

Two new researchers, Noirin McHugh and Philip Creighton, were recruited to the Teagasc research team earlier this year. There will be increased collaboration between the Teagasc sheep research team and UCD, as part of a new partnership on Agriculture Research, Education and Innovation that has been agreed between the two organisations and which will be launched later in the autumn.

Teagasc will also be collaborating with Sheep Ireland to increase the rate of genetic gain in the national flock. Teagasc work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on evaluating grass varieties on the Athenry campus.

Speaking at the launch of the new programme in Athenry, Teagasc Director Professor Gerry Boyle reiterated Teagasc’s commitment to the sheep sector, pointing to the establishment of the new sheep research demonstration farm, the recruitment of additional researchers to the Teagasc sheep research team, the expansion of the BETTER farm sheep programme, and the enhanced knowledge transfer programme to drive efficiency at farm level.

Teagasc Sheep Enterprise Leader, Michael Diskin said that there is significant scope to increase production efficiency through increased utilisation of grazed grass, and through a higher rate of genetic gain.

Michael McHugh, Teagasc, said that a team of three sheep specialists, along with 23 business and technology sheep advisers are working with over 30 farmer discussion groups and 8 producer groups to transfer technical messages on to farms.