As August draws to a close, Agridirect.ie talks preparation for tupping season and offers sheep farmers some advice to help maximize results.
General flock health
It’s been another strange year in many ways, but some things don’t change. When August rolls around, sheep farmers inevitably look towards the autumn and think of the breeding season. While most of us will not put in the ram until October or November, we know that now is the time to start preparing the flock for tupping.
How is your ram?
Most of us will have a ram sorted by now. If you don’t have a ram yet, you need to get one sorted very soon. The first piece of advice I would give to anyone new to sheep farming is this: don’t use a ram lamb to cover the bulk of your flock. Obviously, there is no guarantee of his fertility and you don’t want to find out that you have a dud ram a few weeks out from lambing season! If you have a ram lamb that looks a good prospect, let him run with a small number of ewes for a few weeks. If he turns out to be a good sire, he will do for next year; but let an older ram cover the majority of your ewes this season.
Knowing that your ram is fertile is only half the battle. You also need to be sure that he’s in good physical shape. The condition of his feet is particularly important. In the weeks before tupping, make sure that you check his feet regularly for foot rot, infection or stiffness. Treat these immediately with a the correct footcare treatment.
Remember that your ram is going to get plenty of exercise during the tupping season. It takes a lot of effort to cover dozens of ewes in the space of a couple of months. Rams can lose as much as 15% of their body score during the mating season, so he needs to have a bit of body condition to work off. That doesn’t mean that he should be fat, though. A condition score of 4 is ideal.
To make sure that he is covering your ewes in the early days of the tupping season, use a raddle harness and crayon. If you see crayon markings on your ewes’ backs, you know that he is doing the deed. If not, it may be time to call in a reserve!
Your ewes need to have adequate body condition going into the breeding season. Usually, a body condition score of 3 or 3.5 is desirable for breeding ewes at tupping time. It is difficult to overstate the importance of getting this right. Numerous studies have shown that ewes in good physical condition produce more lambs. In other words, you can probably expect a higher proportion of twins to be born in your flock next year if you ensure that your ewes are in good shape in October/November. Additionally, a healthy breeding flock reduces lambing spread. That will be music to the ears of those of you who are sick of the lambing season dragging on over 2 or 3 months.
Obviously, making sure that your ewes have adequate feed in the weeks before tupping is essential in this respect. On our farm, we usually keep a good field of grass in reserve. We put the sheep onto this grass for a couple of weeks before the ram goes in, to “flush” them. But it is also a good idea to give your ewes a vitamin and mineral supplement as a guarantee against deficiencies. These are usually available in drench and bolus forms, and both have their advantages. If you decide to go with a drench, Breeding Ewe and Sheep Boost are excellent and cost-effective choices. If you would prefer to go with a bolus, Smartrace 24.7 Adult Sheep is hard to beat!
We can’t talk about flock preparation without mentioning a cull. It’s never a nice job, I know. All but the most heartless of us form attachments to our sheep. Ewes that have been on the farm for a few years can be hard to let go, but if we want to turn a profit next year we have to be pragmatic. Sheep with broken teeth or poor body condition score in late summer simply have to go. Surviving the winter will be a challenge for them, and they are very unlikely to hold to the ram. Banking on them to carry a lamb to term would be a foolish gamble. So give her one last pat on the head and send her off to the mart. It’s a rough business sometimes.
Thanks for reading
So that’s it for another week. With tupping season just around the corner, this is an exciting time of the year for sheep farmers. We should look at these weeks before introducing the ram as an opportunity to maximise outcomes for next spring. Remember that a little bit of extra work now will produce great dividends down the line. Best of luck to everybody!