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