Be Prepared for Tupping Time (Chris Lewis)
Chris Lewis, MRVCS
To achieve a tight productive lambing with few barren ewes, planning needs to start at least six weeks before the tupping (joining) date. Too many tups (rams), once they have finished work are consigned to poor pasture and are dragged out of the nettles a day or so before they are expected to work.
To start at the beginning, ewes should be weaned to allow a minimum of 2 to 2 ½ months before joining. At weaning, ewes should be checked for chronic mastitis, poor dentition and poor condition. Cull those that fall into this category unless there is a good reason for the poor condition, which may be able to be corrected before joining. At the same time, find the rams and check their condition score, if thin they will need supplementary feeding and allowed to graze good pasture. Conversely, if too fat put onto poorer pasture.
Six weeks before joining re-inspect the tups. Carry out a quick and easy estimation of their ability to mate successfully. They must not be lame. The testicles should be firm, not hard, and large carried well down in the scrotum and of equal size. At the bottom of the testicle find the epididimus – this should be prominent and firm; it is where the semen is stored. The inner aspect of the thighs should be coloured and waxy.
Ewes and tups should be kept out of sight and sound of each other in these six weeks. During these six weeks it is vital not to do anything which may produce a temporary infertility such as vaccination, or any other procedure causing stress with the attendant temperature rise. Shade should be available at all times. In the week before joining check all the ewes again and if in doubt – OUT.
The use of a raddle is useful in predicting lambing dates and whether the tup is actually working. My preference is to change the colours at day 8-9-10 (about ½ way through the first cycle), then again at day 17. At the end of this period the ewes have had the chance of the tup twice. On the third cycle change the colour again. Ewes that are marked 3 times are almost certainly not going to produce lambs and should be culled. However, those marked for the first time on the second cycle, and again on the third may be retained but it will be at the expense of a very prolonged lambing. In my experience I have found that only retaining ewes marked in the first two cycles has resulted in a minimal barrenness rate and a tight lambing, which is conducive to easier management the following year.
An aid to a tight tupping period is the use of teasers. These are vasectomised males and need to be mature. Introduced 14 days before the tups the teaser will induce the ewes to cycle and, in particular those ewes that silently cycle, be receptive to the tup when introduced towards the end of the first cycle instead of well into the second.
Get the tups right and the ewes in the best condition score at joining and the result should be a productive tight lambing 142 to 150 days later.
For further sheep breeding information, see 'The Breeding Flock', programme 3 in the series 'Sheep on Your Smallholding'.