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.