Producer groups the way forward for hill sheep farmers
Hill sheep farmers could increase profits through more crossbreeding and establishing producer groups to target specific markets, a conference heard.
Michael Diskin from Teagasc Athenry said the sector has been reliant on Mediterranean markets including Portugal, Spain and Italy to take the lighter carcasses from the hill flocks.
However, he pointed out there has been a 54pc decline in exports to the Mediterranean countries in recent years as the downturn took hold.
Prof Diskin, who addressed the Teagasc Hill Sheep conference attended by almost 300 farmers in Ballybofey, Co Donegal, said a proportion of the hill breed ewes should be crossed with breeds such as Belclare, Bluefaced Leicester or Texel to produce quality replacements or lambs for slaughter.
He acknowledged that hill land was variable but some of the better upland areas may be more suitable for crossbreds.
"Typically the crossbred lamb would be 3-4kg heavier at weaning than the purebred hill lamb," he said.
However, he cautioned the primary aim must still be to produce replacement ewes for the hill breeds.