From Tupping to Lambing (Chris Lewis)
Chris Lewis, MRVCS
To achieve a tight lambing, rams (tups) should only be allowed 2 cycles (34 days). Any ewe marked 3 times should be culled, as she is most likely barren (or retain until scanning for confirmation, if you scan the ewes). Rams will have lost a lot of condition during tupping. Once removed from the ewes they should be cosseted; they should have access to good grazing or hay supplemented by a concentrate of 16-18% protein and containing good proportion of cereals such as barley, oats and sugar beet pulp. This level of feeding should be continued until the rams return to a condition score of 4. (Information on condition scoring can be found in the EBLEX Better Returns Programme booklet, "Improving Ewe Nutrition", and it is demonstrated in Programme 2 of the "Sheep on Your Smallholding" series). It is a vital tool for good management. Good care of rams at this stage results in along productive life. My own Teeswater ram is seven and every ewe held to first service. This is cost effective as buying cheap rams is a recipe for disaster.
[CLICK HERE for a video demonstration of how to Condition Score your sheep. This is an extract from Programme 2 of the “Sheep on Your Smallholding” series]
Ewes on the other hand require a level plane of nutrition up to 40 days post mating to optimise implantation of foetuses and to allow maximum growth of the placenta, which ultimately determines the size of the lamb. Thereafter in month 3 it is important that they lose at least a ½ or full condition score. This is achieved by grazing poorer pasture. This loss of condition at this stage is a major factor in reducing vaginal prolapse. A huge trial in New Zealand involving 54,000 ewes showed conclusively that failure to lose weight in this time in pregnancy was the single most important factor in reducing prolapse.
Scanning is a useful aid to knowing the foetal load of the ewes and hence feeding can be adjusted accordingly. Remember, two thirds of foetal growth occurs in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy. It is during this time that there is an increasing demand for both energy and protein. Essentially a good quality feed of 18% protein and 12.5 ME is required and fed in increasing amounts towards the lambing date. The amounts can be tailored to the foetal load of individual ewes, as identified at scanning. It is essential that a plentiful supply of clean water is available.
Vaccination against clostridial diseases must be carried out about 4 weeks before lambing. If pasturella is a problem a combined vaccine can be used. Do not use other drugs at the same time; 'poly pharmacy' in heavily pregnant ewes can lead to severe metabolic problems.
In the wetter areas of the country, fluke is rampant this year. Treat the ewes and rams with a flukicide in late January, but before the last six weeks of pregnancy.
[CLICK HERE for a video that describes the complex lifecycle of the fluke parasite, and how to protect your flock]
Prepare well ahead for lambing. If lambing indoors, remember the advantage must be to keep the ewes and lambs dry and out of chilling winds – it is not to keep them warm! Prepare lambing pens by liming the floor thoroughly – the cheapest is ordinary builders lime. Use wood shavings or straw, or best of all, wood shavings over the lime with straw on top. Update your lambing kit with strong 10% iodine to dress navels, ensure syringes and tubes for artificial feeding of colostrums have been washed and sterilised, arrange for a supply of colostrums, either commercial artificial, or cows colostrums. If using cows colostrums source from two unrelated cows and mix to prevent anaemia.
[CLICK HERE for a comprehensive ‘Lambing Equipment List’]
Check all other equipment particular to your set up. If lambing outside, arrange some windbreaks: four straw bales placed at right angles to each other can be effective. Be sure the torch is working and spare batteries are available!
The success of lambing is good feeding of ewes and the old Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared".
For further sheep breeding information, see 'The Breeding Flock', programme 3 in the series 'Sheep on Your Smallholding'.