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.