Sheep - Things to do this Month - December

SHEEP – for a March/April lambing flock:

Adjust the following dates for earlier/later lambing flocks, and see last month’s guidance for later lambing flocks

  • tupped-eweIf you’re new to sheep breeding, or need to brush up any aspects of your skills, get hold of your very own copy of The Breeding Flock – Programme Three in our “Sheep on Your Smallholding” series of DVDs.
  • Remove the ram at the end of 34 days (2 cycles) – this will ensure that you have a tight lambing period. Any ewes that haven’t conceived by this time are unlikely to do so, or if they do it will mean inconveniently late lambs, well after the main flock have lambed.
  • Give the ram a full health check before you put him back into his bachelor quarters: check his brisket (chest) and the areas where the harness (if used) may have rubbed for signs of chaffing; check his feet, especially his hinds; check his penis for any signs of soreness; and finally check his condition, he’s been working hard so give him a little feed to keep him at a condition score of around 3.5 while he’s not working. Looking after the ram now will ensure he gives you many more years of service.
  • The period from tupping to lambing is explained in our excellent article by Specialist Sheep Vet, Chris Lewis, From Tupping to Lambing
  • If you plan to pregnancy scan, the best time is between 40-90 days of the ewes’ 147 day pregnancy – so book soon to ensure the operator can visit your flock on the appropriate date, and make sure you are organised when he or she arrives – it’s a busy time of year for the operator and they won’t be grateful if the ewes are still in the field when they arrive! Scanning will tell you whether the ewe is pregnant, and whether she’s expecting a single, or multiple lambs – you can then feed appropriately to keep her at the ideal body condition score throughout her pregnancy.
  • Specialist sheep vet, Agnes Winter, has written an article for The Smallholder Series on The Importance Of Monitoring Body Condition through the winter, a vital element in producing healthy lambs next spring.
  • Continue to be vigilant for signs of liver fluke, especially if your sheep graze wet pastures – any sudden loss of condition or unexplained death should be investigated. As winter progresses, so does the disease; cold weather (<10oC) will arrest further snail eggs being laid, so watch for symptoms of sub-acute disease, which include lethargy, anaemia (identified by pale mucous membranes), poor body condition, poor fleece quality and reduced grazing. Chronic fascioliasis, the next stage of the disease, can be detected in faecal samples; acute and sub-acute disease is diagnosed though blood samples that will show raised liver enzymes, and should be treated strategically in line with your Flock Health Plan. Choose the right treatment for each stage of the disease, as not all flukicides will treat all stages of disease. For a complete explanation of the complex lifecycle and treatment of this disease, (click here) to watch a video presented by Michaela Strachan.  
  • Scab continues to be a serious problem in many parts of the country, so watch out for itchy sheep and if you spot a sheep rubbing itself, ask your vet to take skin scrapings to confirm the diagnosis: if positive treat the whole flock immediately, not just the affected animal as scab is highly contagious. You should also alert any neighbouring sheep farms, so that they can check and treat their flocks if necessary. The best way to avoid scab is to observe strict bio-security for your flock: quarantine all incoming animals and ask your vet to test if you have any itchy sheep, and maintain double fencing between your flock and neighbours’ – remember the old adage: “A sheep’s worst enemy is a another sheep”
  • At this year’s Sheep Health & Welfare Conference there was a very interesting Case Study presented by vet Joe Henry from Northumberland about how a group of sheep farmers, led by local vets, coordinated their efforts in an effort to eradicate scab from their extensive upland flocks. The outcomes were impressive and clearly showed that a collaborative approach to this perennial problem can work. If scab is a problem in your area, ask your vet whether they might consider a similar approach – REMEMBER, scab mites don’t differentiate between your well-kept, clean sheep and a neighbour’s scruffy sheep, and it only takes one infected sheep to spread Scab to flocks for miles around!
  • And finally, make sure you have enough feed (hard feed, if appropriate, and hay), bedding (straw and/or shavings) & medical supplies to see you though the Christmas season!