Inspections under the various EU funded schemes, including the Sheep Welfare Scheme (SWS), are necessary in order to comply with EU regulatory requirements.
The Sheep Welfare Scheme was introduced to contribute to the continued development of animal health and welfare practices in the sheep sector. My Department ensures compliance on the part of SWS applicants by way of on-farm inspections and administrative control checks. The rate of on-farm inspection under the Sheep Welfare Scheme is 5%. These checks are undertaken to confirm that the requisite number of breeding ewes have been retained and to verify that the two scheme actions have been completed.
Every effort is made by Department officials to minimise disruption as much as possible to both the farmer and livestock on the holding in both the timing and undertaking of inspections. Insofar as possible inspections are integrated, to this effect over two-thirds of the SWS on-farm inspections are carried out in conjunction with Ovine Identification & Registration (IDR) inspections under Cross Compliance requirements, which normally take place between the months of April and December. In these circumstances a second farm visit is required towards the end of the scheme year in order to verify that the scheme actions have been satisfactorily completed. The inspecting officer checks that the Scheme Action Record Book has been completed and checks any supporting documentation provided by the applicant. As the ewe count has been previously completed it is not necessary for the inspecting officer to pen and count the ewes again.
The remaining one-third of SWS inspections take place towards the end of the SWS scheme year. The breeding ewe count and the verification of the two scheme actions are completed in one farm visit. Department officials, who are very conscious of all of the animal welfare considerations, endeavour to minimise and avoid stress to livestock on the holding when conducting sheep inspections. When carrying out inspections during the lambing season Department officials adhere to previously agreed protocols, between the Department and the Farming Organisations, aimed at minimising animal stress and preventing the mis-mothering/smothering or injuring of lambs.
I would like to assure the Deputy that I and officials in my Department are very aware of the concerns being expressed. The Deputy will appreciate, however, that I must ensure that the EU regulatory requirements on inspections are complied with in order to protect payments under the various schemes and to avoid substantial EU disallowances.