Agridirect.ie discusses sheep fertility and the importance of mineral supplementation against deficiency in the weeks before tupping season.
The science of fertility
Tupping season is only a few weeks away now. As I touched on in last week’s blog, late August and September is the time to focus on getting the breeding flock in tiptop shape before putting in the ram. Most sheep farmers will agree that this is an exact science.
While there are many factors that might negatively impact overall flock fertility at this crucial time of the year, mineral deficiencies will always be a key concern for sheep farmers. Obviously, ensuring that your ewes have access to good grazing as we move into September will be a crucial part of safeguarding against the various deficiencies that contribute to infertility. A malnourished ewe will always be deficient in key vitamins and minerals, so remember to get that body condition score up to a healthy 3 or 3.5 before putting her to the ram!
Supplementation will also be crucial over the coming weeks. Good and abundant the autumn grass in your paddocks may well be, but there is always the likelihood that it will be lacking in some of the key nutrients ewes need to achieve maximum fertility. When we think about minerals in this context, it is important to recognise the difference between major elements and trace elements. The major elements, such Calcium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Potassium and Chloride, exist in larger levels in the sheep and are often provided for in a standard grass diet. This does not mean that we don’t need to provide them in supplements. Of course we do. But it simply means that they are not needed for supplementation to the same degree as the trace elements.
The trace elements include Copper, Zinc, Cobalt, Manganese, Selenium, Iodine and Iron. While the ewe does not need as much of these elements in her diet, they are essential to the maintenance of good bodily function. Unlike the major elements, they also exist at very low levels in a grass diet. Deficiencies in trace elements like cobalt, copper and selenium are extremely common. They will damage a ewe’s overall health and reduce her chances of conception. This means that supplementation of trace elements will be crucial for even the best-fed ewes in the weeks before tupping, and again during the gestation period.
When it comes to managing flock mineral levels, there are a few excellent options open to sheep farmers. First of all, it never hurts to leave a mineral lick in the field with your sheep before and during the tupping season. Personally, I would recommend Unitup from Uniblock. Aside from containing high levels of the essential trace elements, Unitup is also fortified with fish oils (omega 3) that have been proven to improve flock fertility.
There is one significant downside to the mineral bucket, of course. There is no guarantee that all your breeding sheep will use it. While many of your ewes will take a shine to the sweet flavour, some will always shun the bucket lick.
Drench or bolus?
So while a mineral lick is good idea, it is not the entire solution. Realistically, to be sure of optimal performance come breeding time, you will need to administer a drench or bolus. As touched on in last week’s blog, good mineral drenches include Breeding Ewe and Sheep Boost. I recommend these because they have been specially formulated for the purpose and contain all the key elements for overall health and fertility. If you want to go for the bolus option, consider using Smartrace 24.7 Adult Sheep. If you are particularly worried about cobalt and selenium deficiencies, you might want to consider the Cobalt Master 3 in 1 bolus or the Cobalt B12 with Selenium drench.
Thanks for reading
So that’s it for another week. We are now about 5 weeks out from the traditional start of tupping season in early October. This means that the window of opportunity for managing the flock is closing. Have your flushing paddocks picked out and fenced of; and make sure your ram is ready to go! If you are planning on supplementing with a mineral drench like Breeding Ewe or Sheep Boost, the next week or so is the time to do it. Supplementing now means that your ewes will really start to show the benefits in early October!