SHEEP

NZ Lifestyle Block - - FEATURE -

THE MAIN pri­or­ity is to only have sheep in your flock that will earn their keep.

You need to have a tough ap­proach or you’ll end up with far too many rub­bish stock. Get rid of them, even if there’s no profit in their sale, as they’ll only waste feed and cost you money. There’s no money in be­ing over­stocked with skinny an­i­mals, and it’s against the law!

Even with a small flock, it’s im­por­tant to give an­i­mals a unique num­bered tag (use a dif­fer­ent colour each year) and keep a record of what they pro­duce and what you have to spend on them. Mem­o­ries are not re­li­able.

The ‘lamb­ing per­cent­age’ is the best mea­sure of flock per­for­mance, and from it you can see where things went wrong last sea­son. There are many ways to work this out but the best fig­ure is the num­ber of lambs weaned as a per­cent­age of ewes joined with the ram. The big­gest spoil­ers of a good re­sult are ewes that didn’t pro­duce lambs (dry/dry), or pro­duced lambs and lost them be­fore wean­ing (wet/dry).

Cull any ewes that didn’t rear a lamb or lambs to wean­ing, and any with per­sis­tent footrot, bro­ken mouths (miss­ing or over­grown teeth), ud­ders with hard lumps from mas­ti­tis, or un­even ud­der ves­sels and dam­aged (blind) teats.

It’s far bet­ter to have sin­gle and twin lambs born (with a higher birth weight and hence bet­ter sur­vival rate), than triplets and quads which in­volve a lot of work with bot­tle feed­ing, or time spent fos­ter­ing them on to other ewes.

Au­tumn is also time to get the rams or­gan­ised. Re­place an old ram be­fore he can mate with his daugh­ters, which is in­breed­ing and not rec­om­mended.

Then it’s im­por­tant to de­cide when to join the rams with the ewes. In the North Is­land, if ewes are in good con­di­tion and rams are start­ing to pink up and smell strongly, the ewes will have been stim­u­lated (by ram pheromones) to start cy­cling in De­cem­ber and Jan­uary. These cy­cles are ‘silent heats’ but ewes will take the ram on the sec­ond heat (14 days later) and in cy­cles af­ter that if the ram has ac­cess. A cy­cle may vary from 14-21 days. The main guide is to time lamb­ing for when there is a good sup­ply of spring feed on your farm for lac­tat­ing ewes. You can try to con­cen­trate lamb­ing by iso­lat­ing ewes from the sight and smell of rams for a cou­ple of weeks be­fore join­ing.

Fit­ting a har­ness and crayon on the ram will tell you when mat­ing ac­tion starts, and which ewes keep re­turn­ing and may end up be­ing bar­ren, es­pe­cially im­por­tant if you only have one ram for the flock. Make sure the har­ness fits and isn’t chaf­ing, and that the crayon is clean

of trash. An ac­tive ram loses weight fast so the har­ness will need reg­u­lar ad­just­ment.

It of­ten pays to change to another ram af­ter the first cy­cle (av­er­age of 17 days) just in case the first has low fer­til­ity.

It’s not a good idea in a big mob of ewes to run a big old ram with a young smaller one, or rams of dif­fer­ent sizes, as this may cause them to spend time fight­ing, not mat­ing.

You also need to ob­serve him in ac­tion, to make sure the ram is serv­ing and ejac­u­lat­ing into the ewe’s vagina and not the rec­tum, or just mak­ing false mounts.

Rams should be shorn in good time be­fore join­ing, so they have some wool growth to hold the har­ness. Don’t dip or use any pour-on chem­i­cals on ewes or rams for at least a month be­fore mat­ing, and for six weeks af­ter mat­ing, as this may af­fect em­bryo sur­vival in the ewes.

Hoggets are a pri­or­ity but are of­ten ne­glected in au­tumn when it’s im­por­tant for them to keep grow­ing. If there is good feed on the farm and hoggets are over 40kg, they should be big enough to mate if you wish to get more lambs but they will need pri­or­ity feed treat­ment for the next year at least.

Ad­ver­tis­ing puts pres­sure on farm­ers to buy drench when the rea­son for young sheep not thriv­ing is not worms. Seek vet­eri­nary ad­vice based on a fae­cal egg count (FEC), and es­pe­cially on what prod­uct to use to avoid the build-up of drench re­sis­tance in worms. Ma­ture ewes should not need drench­ing.

Fa­cial eczema in the North Is­land and top of the South Is­land is a con­stant risk. Keep pre­ven­tion go­ing right into May, and con­sult your vet if you are un­sure how long to keep it go­ing for. There are plenty of rams with ge­netic re­sis­tance to FE now avail­able from se­lected breed­ers - see the Sheep Im­prove­ment Ltd web­site for de­tails: www.sil.co.nz

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