Time right to record ewes
THE FIRST month of 2017 has flown in and we are already into February, writes Ewen Campbell, SRUC’s Kirkton and Auchtertyre research farms manager.
The snow has gone, but the weather is still a bit dreich. However, that does not prevent us from getting on with the recording of our ewes.
We took the chaser rams away at the beginning of last month. As I have explained previously, chasers are rams of a different breed that are put in with the ewes after the first batch of rams have mated with the ewes.
This allows us to know – from the different lambs we get – which ewes conceived early in the mating season and which conceived later. This tells us about an individual ewe’s fertility status and can be one of the performance characteristics we use later in the year when deciding which ewes to retain in the flock for next year.
The ewes have now been put in their respective feeding groups. This year, like the year before, we are using our electronic tag (EID) linked weighing equipment to sort the animals according to weight change since before tupping started in November.
This approach means we can assess the ewes much more quickly, as the EID weigh crate automatically sorts the ewes with weight loss or weight gain into different pens. We can then go through and assess the condition of each ewe in detail.
Those animals which are lighter than we’d want end up being fed more than those animals that are near to or at the desired weight range. This certainly speeds up the assessment process and makes life much easier for myself and the shepherds.
The cows have also been taking up my time recently – they will be calving mid February so not long now. Of the 27 cows and heifers in calve, four of them have been scanned as potentially carrying twins. So the new bull has certainly been very prolific.
However, six of the heifers that went to the bull are not in calve, which is very unusual given how well the others in the herd took the bull. We suspect those six share an infertility problem and so we will be transferring them to Oatridge for finishing and won’t be keeping them in the breeding herd for next year.
The ground is relatively firm at the moment, given that we have had less than average rain fall over the past few months. This means that we can get the cattle shed mucked out before calving and also get some muck spread on the fields. The grass has also benefited from the mild spell, especially the two fields which were sown out last year which, according to our QMS sward stick, currently have grass heights of 7.3 and 6.1 cm respectively. This has allowed us to stop feeding our park ewes and to graze all the fields with sward heights above 4cms.
The research team here has also had a new student, Claire Paton, start her PhD study over the winter. Claire’s PhD is being funded jointly by SRUC and the University of Stirling and involves working closely with colleagues in the Moredun Research Institute and Scottish Water.
She will be looking at what role livestock and wildlife have to play in the transmission of a parasite called Cryptosporidium. So over the coming months Claire will be taking samples from sheep and lambs, cows and calves and wildlife such as voles, rabbits and deer. This will help her narrow down where the greatest potential risk of parasite transmission may lie on hill farms like ours.
Finally, two of my colleagues, Claire Morgan-Davies and Nicola Lambe, have won a new European Research Area (ERA-NET) funded research grant, with collaborators from three other countries: Norway, France and Ireland.
The project relates to sustainable sheep production and will look at ewe longevity, labour and ‘carbon hoofprint’ of different European sheep systems, using the data from our farm and others, as well as artificial insemination techniques for dairy ewes (led by the French group). Farmers from the UK Maternal Sheep Group are also involved, so the industry involvement should be very interesting and should help uptake of final results and recommendations. Watch this space for more details.
Ewes being gathered on the hill.