Time right to record ewes

The Oban Times - - Farming -

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.

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