Sheep - Things to do this Month - January

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

  • scan shotIf 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.
  • Now that the ram’s work is done for the year and has left the ewes, check him over paying particular attention to his feet, any areas where the harness may have chafed, and condition. If he’s lost condition during tupping, which is likely, feed him your best hay and an appropriate amount of hard feed, if necessary – but remember, rams can suffer from urinary calculi if fed concentrates over a prolonged period. If you look after your ram now, he will do a good job for years to come.
  • During early pregnancy, the ewes shouldn’t become too fat (see Specialist Sheep Vet, Chris Lewis’ article on Management from Tupping to Lambing) – so check their body condition regularly (Refer to Programme 2, “Managing Your Flock for Peak Health”, or look on our You-Tube channel for a demonstration of how to do this).
  • If you’re planning to scan the ewes the best time is between 40-90 days into the ewes’ pregnancy. Book the scanning operator if you haven’t done so already, and get organised: think about your handling system; aim to reduce stress for the ewes while making sure of a steady flow to the scanner. 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 (3 for lowland ewes, 2.5 for hill and upland ewes) throughout her pregnancy. If a number of ewes turn out to be barren, you can ask your vet to investigate the reason, and meanwhile save money by not feeding empty ewes.
  • 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 with your vet. 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 for at least 6 weeks and ask your vet to test if you have any itchy sheep. Maintain double fencing with at least one metre airspace between your flock and neighbours’ – remember the old adage: “A sheep’s worst enemy is a another sheep”.
  • If you’re feeding hay – a must in bad weather if the ground is frozen – they will get used to you going into their field every day, which means that if you need to treat any it will be less stressful for them.
  • Think about housing for indoor lambing flocks – how well did your arrangement work last year? Can it be improved? Ensure there is good ventilation at head height to prevent respiratory disease, but try to avoid draughts at ground level.
  • Calculate how much feed you’ll need for the 8 week period running up to lambing, and for 8 weeks after – (See our article, “Nutritional Management of the Ewe in Late Pregnancy”), and ask your feed merchant for a bulk discount!