August 2017 | News
Sheep farmers need to be assessing their ewes and rams as a priority to make sure they are in the right condition for tupping, according to a leading sheep expert.
Senior beef and sheep scientist at AHDB Beef & Lamb Dr Liz Genever says body condition scores of both ewes and rams is vital in order to maximise fertility.
“Body condition score drives fertility in ewes,” she says. Ideally lowland ewes should be scoring 3.5 when the tup goes in, upland 3 and hill sheep 2.5-3.
“Overfat fat ewes with a BCS of 4 or over will have a detrimental effect on fertility. They tend to have lower rates of embryo survival, which impacts overall flock fertility,” she says.
If ewes are in good condition, flushing with high quality grass will have limited impact on egg quality as this has been set months ago.
Flushing can boost ovulation rates in ewes with body condition below target, but consideration needs to be given to how their condition will be managed after tupping.
If ewes need to increase body condition up to tupping, they should be on 6-8cm of good quality grass.
Dr Genever says: “With grass quality mixed across the country, it could be that the farm should switch between prioritising lamb finishing to ewes gaining condition, since their body condition score at tupping will drive production next year.
It is also important to establish the social structure in the ewe groups at least 10 days before the ram goes in to make sure the group is settled.
“This is relatively new thinking, but it reduces stress as there is less competition once the social structure is established,” she explains.
Weaning provides the opportune time to make sure ewes health is up to scratch and administer any vaccines and boosters. Dr Genever stresses the importance some vaccines can have in helping protect stock and reducing the need for antibiotics at lambing.
“We all have a duty to reduce antibiotics use and one of the biggest areas it is used at lambing is to deal with infection with enzootic abortion. Vaccines to protect ewes against enzootic abortion and toxoplasma need to be given at least four weeks before the ewes become pregnant, so it needs to planned in,” she says.
Rams should be in body condition score 3.5-4 at tupping to make sure they have condition to lose over the tupping period. Rams may lose 15% of body weight during the 6 weeks of tupping.
Ten weeks from tupping rams should also be given an ‘MOT’. Dr Genever recommends following the ‘5 Ts’ set out by AHDB Beef & Lamb.
If rams are in poor body condition or their testicle tone or size is small, then they should be fed a high protein diet. “We would recommend 500g of an 18% crude protein feed a day to improve semen quality and quantity,” says Dr Genever.
Trace elements are also an important factor to consider and farmers need to find out whether there is a deficiency or lock-up problem on their farm.
Agri-Lloyd’s regional sale manager for Wales Sarah James, who is also a sheep farmer, says it’s important farmers establish what is happening on their farm with regards trace elements, minerals and antagonist levels.
“We offer a grazing and forage analysis test, which will help identify any issues. This is especially important prior to tupping as ewes have a higher demand of trace elements at these times..”
Blood testing can also highlight any deficiencies, but will only tell you that ewes situation at that moment in time.
Mrs James says it’s important to be armed with as much information as possible. “Deficiencies can be different in each field. The age of the ley and land type can affect trace element levels in the grass. For example, a younger ley may not have as good a root system, so even if the soil isn’t deficient it may not be able to utilise all the nutrients.”
Using a trace element booster at the main stress points of the breeding season can help both ewes and rams.
“A chelated drench means the elements and vitamins are absorbed into the body tissues to be drawn upon when needed, giving the animal a ‘reserve tank’ for everything she needs to ensure peak performance.
“Knowing if you have antagonists or severe deficiencies in key components allows you to adjust your treatment regime to make up for these major deficiencies,” she adds.
Ewes that have a deficiency at tupping could see reduced conception rates, lower lambing percentages and more embryonic losses.
“In a volatile market guessing can be expensive. Once the rams are in it’s another season lost to make improvements. Understanding forage is essential in understanding the needs of your flock,” says Mrs James.