Tim’s Tips

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Tup­ping time... and more

It’s hard to be­lieve that a whole shep­herd­ing year has flown by since I last wrote about tup­ping in this col­umn! Here at Ty’n-y-Mynydd Farm it’s not been an easy year with the sheep, as a num­ber of new prob­lems have cropped up as a re­sult of us hav­ing changed our graz­ing sys­tem, but hope­fully we’ve got ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol, and with tup­ping time al­most upon us, we’re look­ing for­ward to the start of a new breed­ing cy­cle.

As I men­tioned last month, it’s a good idea to buy in rams well in ad­vance of when they’re re­quired to work, so hope­fully, by now, any tups bought this sea­son will have had time to set­tle down and be­come ac­cli­ma­tised to life on your small­hold­ing. Un­for­tu­nately this ob­jec­tive is not made any the more achiev­able by the fact that many ram sales are held rather too late in the year for new pur­chases to be given an ad­e­quate pe­riod of quar­an­tine once you get them home. This is a sit­u­a­tion that breed so­ci­eties re­ally do need to ad­dress if they want buy­ers to con­tinue to sup­port their of­fi­cial events.

All rams on the hold­ing, whether new pur­chases or es­tab­lished mem­bers of the flock, should be given an ‘MOT’ about eight weeks be­fore use. Check teeth, feet, body con­di­tion and tes­ti­cles, and also treat for in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal par­a­sites. Tes­ti­cles should be two in num­ber, fairly large and of equal size. They should move eas­ily within the scro­tum and be free from un­usual swellings. The testes should feel as firm as your clenched bi­cep, and the epi­didymides (the ‘lump’ at the bot­tom of each tes­ti­cle where se­men is stored) should be well de­fined. Avoid us­ing rams with small, soft tes­ti­cles. The tem­per­a­ture at which se­men is stored is fairly crit­i­cal, so any ram with an ex­ces­sively woolly scro­tum may need to have it clipped. In ad­di­tion to the phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion it is well worth hav­ing rams fer­til­ity tested by your vet, even if they’ve suc­cess­fully sired lambs in the past. This is par­tic­u­larly ap­pro­pri­ate to small flock own­ers who may only have one ram. Test­ing now gives you time to source a re­place­ment, and is in­finitely bet­ter than find­ing your­self with no lambs in the spring.

Tight lamb­ing pe­riod

Keep your ewes well away from all male sheep (and billy goats) for the month

im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing tup­ping, but if pos­si­ble run a ‘teaser’ (i.e., va­sec­tomised ram) with them for 12 – 14 days be­fore in­tro­duc­ing the fer­tile tups. This will help to en­sure that you get a nice tight lamb­ing pe­riod. Rams should be fit­ted with rad­dle har­nesses and crayons in or­der to mark each ewe as she’s served. This en­ables you to mon­i­tor tup­ping ac­tiv­ity. By chang­ing the colour of the crayon on a weekly or fort­nightly ba­sis you’ll be able to sub­di­vide your flock as lamb­ing time ap­proaches, ac­cord­ing to the or­der in which they’re likely to give birth. Nor­mal prac­tice is to leave the rams with the ewes for five to eight weeks (although less is best, if your flock man­age­ment is good enough to risk it. Three weeks is the ab­so­lute min­i­mum you could get away with, but this might re­sult in a lot of ‘empty’ ewes if they weren’t syn­chro­nised or if your rams weren’t quite up to the job), af­ter which time they should be sep­a­rated off for some well earned rest. At this point it’s a good idea to re-in­tro­duce the teaser to the flock, with a dis­tinc­tively dif­fer­ent coloured crayon strapped to his chest. He’ll iden­tify and mark any ewes that aren’t in-lamb, which is par­tic­u­larly use­ful if you aren’t plan­ning to have the ewes scanned later in preg­nancy.

A rad­dled ram marks each ewe that he serves.

A cor­rectly fit­ted rad­dle har­ness and crayon.

The ram’s tes­ti­cles should feel as firm as a clenched bi­cep.

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