Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Preparing ewes and rams for tupping season

Katie Thorley, Senior Knowledge Transfer Manager, gives advice around ensuring your ewes are fit for going to the ram in terms of body condition score, as well as suggesting how rams should be prepared for the tupping season.

October is not far away and this is traditionally the start of the main tupping period. You need to ensure your ewes are fit for going to the ram, so it is important to body condition score (BCS) all breeding ewes. Ensuring ewes are on target for the system is more important than ever after a tough year. Go through your ewes and separate into three groups, lean, fit and fat. The lean ewes are those which need priority grazing, supplementary forage or concentrates to get them back in condition to go to the ram. It takes six to eight weeks on good quality grazing to put on one BCS. If they go to the ram lean this could lead to issues throughout the pregnancy and reduced lamb performance. We have been running some body condition scoring workshops - visit the events area of our website to find a workshop near you.


Reduced grass growth this year may have forced you to feed some of your winter feed stocks already, so now is the time to consider your feed options. Calculate your feed requirements to get you through a normal winter with your number of stock. Have you made enough silage? Measure the clamp to work out the amount of silage made and count the number of bales. If you think you will have a shortfall you need to consider your options now. Could you add an additional feed to bulk out the forage, such as potatoes. Could you plant some brassica crops? Consider the best options for your area and system - planning now will save a lot of worry and stress throughout the winter.

Research suggests that feeding ewes a diet high in protein and energy in the weeks leading up to tupping (also known as flushing) will achieve higher scanning percentages. However, it depends a lot on the ewe’s current body condition. Flushing has the biggest impact on ewes between BCS 2 and 4. Trial work has found that flushing ewes at BCS 4 or above did not improve conception rate and flushing ewes at below BCS 2 had no effect on scanning results. In terms of tupping, make sure at least 90 per cent of the flock is at target BCS to optimise flock performance. Thin ewes ovulate fewer eggs and are likely to have fewer lambs. Fat ewes will ovulate more than thin ewes, however higher embryonic death rates may result in lower scanning for ewes that are in too good condition.



In terms of checking your rams, the best way to do this is to carry out a ram MOT, ideally 10 weeks before tupping. It is important that you consider the five t’s (toes, teeth, testicles, tone and treat). You should consider a high-quality protein feed and purchase your rams well in advance of the breeding season, so you can quarantine them for the minimum time of three weeks and allow them to adjust to your system. A fertile, mature ram should be able to successfully inseminate 85 per cent of a batch of 60 ewes in their first reproductive cycle. Ram lambs should be able to get 85 per cent of 40 ewes pregnant after one mating. If these targets are reached, the ram cost per lamb is optimised and the lambing period will be better controlled. 



For more information on how to ensure both ewes and rams are in good condition for breeding take a look at the BRP manual Managing ewes for Better Returns and the Ram MOT leaflet.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Mastitis concern raised at Challenge Sheep discussion groups

Over the Summer, the second round of Challenge Sheep discussion groups have been held on the 12 participating farms, focussing on the data collected after the 2018 lambing season. Following a poor spring, attendees across the groups have reported a noticeable rise in cases of Mastitis. Dr Liz Genever discusses why this may have happened and what farmers should be doing to address the rise, ahead of tupping.


We’ve just finished running all of our Challenge Sheep discussion groups and have had a reoccurring topic across all events with attendees. Mastitis and sore teats have been common this year, in both replacements that we are following for the project but also the wider flock too.

This year’s weather is likely to have had an impact on mastitis. The cold and slow spring, which led to poor nutrition for ewes may have reduced milk yields, leaving lambs to damage the udders when trying to get the milk out. As a result, infections are then common in teats or in the udder. If ewes are cold, wet and hungry, they are more likely to be susceptible to infection.

At the groups, there was a lot of talk about mastitis in ewes with older lambs. This could be due to reduced milk yields from lack of forage supplies, with lambs still demanding milk and therefore damaging udders. In some cases this leads to mastitis.

Udder with acute mastitis

As we know, mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland, usually caused by bacterial infection. But we don’t always think about it as an infectious disease, similar to lameness. Lumps that are felt inside udders are normally abscesses and can vary in size. The abscesses can burst and re-infect the udders, meaning lambs can then spread the infection by cross suckling. If the ewe’s udders are sore, cross suckling is more likely to increase as she will knock the lambs off.

With the current weather conditions reducing grass and forage supplies on farms around the country, it is crucial that only productive breeding animals remain in the flock this autumn. It’s now the time of year that ewe’s udders will be examined generally once they have dried off and before they head towards tupping.

After the bad spring and with farmers noticing a rise in mastitis, it’s is likely that harder culling on udders may be needed. This is justified due to the need to prioritise resources for your best ewes.

Previous research has shown that lambs from ewes with lumps in the udder grow slower, which can have an impact financially. There is also research to suggest that ewes with lumps are at a greater risk of developing mastitis in the next lactation.

Estimates suggest that mastitis costs the UK sheep industry more than £120 million per year in direct and indirect costs. It is ranked as one of the most important diseases affecting ewes. For this reason, farmers should be assessing udders now ahead of tupping and making the best decisions for their flock.

There is more information about tackling mastitis here in the Better Returns Plus – Understanding mastitis in sheep document. https://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/BRP-plus-Understanding-mastitis-in-sheep-180716.pdf

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Advice on managing grass and forage stocks

Liz Genever, AHDB Beef & Lamb Senior Scientist, looks at the current weather conditions and suggests ways in which farmers can tackle some of the difficult decisions that will need to made over the coming weeks and months.



The extreme weather we have experienced this year has made for a challenging 2018 so far. The very dry weather over the past few weeks has meant grass growth has been way below average for the time of year, with AHDB’s Forage for Knowledge weekly grass monitoring reporting growth of
21.2kg DM/ha across contributor farms at the end of July, compared to 59.5kg DM/ha recorded at the end of July 2017.

The lack of grass growth has meant farmers are having to feed animals with winter feed stock which will affect supplies later in the year. This issue is further compounded because the bad weather earlier in the spring has impacted silage yields, with most farmers able to get an ok first cut, some may have got a second cut but that’s about it. Farmers should look at options for late silage, including the use of additives and testing nitrogen levels in standing crops so they can get a decent third cut. More information on making grass silage can be found in the BRP manual Making Grass silage for Better Returns.

Farmers should consider creating their winter feed budget now so they can get a handle on how much feed they will need in the coming months going in to the winter period, how much they will have and plan strategies to cope with the deficit.

The BRP manual Planning grazing strategies for Better Returns includes calculations for assessing available forage stocks and is a good place to start when assessing what is available on farm. There is also a feed budget calculator, available online, to help you plan the feed you have and will need.

Once you have identified the deficit you can plan on how to manage it. It may be that top-up purchases are required and you may have to feed more supplements than usual. It is a good idea to look at your flock or herd closely and identify the most productive animals. Consider selling or culling unproductive stock so that the limited resources can be allocated to the best-performing animals.

Livestock performance may have suffered too, so keep an eye on body condition score of ewes in the lead up to tupping, as well as cows, and consider weaning thin cows early. For more information on BCS see Managing ewes for Better Returns and Optimising suckler herd fertility for Better Returns.


If you usually house stock in winter, consider whether outwintering on a forage crop or sacrifice fields is in an option. This will depend on conditions on your farm as crops will need to sown in the next few weeks if being used for winter feed. The BRP manual Using Brassicas for Better Returns can help you plan the use of brassicas.

If this is not an option, look at different options for bedding in preparation for a straw shortage and also be prepared that if straw is in short supply, it may not be an option to bulk out a total mixed ration (TMR). Make sure ventilation is optimum and that drainage in yards is adequate to reduce the need for straw. We have videos on assessing calf buildings and assessing ventilation that can help you identify where imporvements can be made. Further information can be found in the BRP+ documents Better calf housing and BRP+ Better cattle housing design.

Contingency plans will have financial implications, whether it’s buying in extra feed or having to sell animals early which may mean not getting as good a price as you might expect. The key is to start planning now and finding the option that best-suits your business.

AHDB has a created a drought hub where farmers can find the latest guidance on managing the effects of heat stress and drought, including the latest insight from the market intelligence team.