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Preparing for Tupping

Tupping is a critical time of year for any sheep farmer as it fundamentally sets the scene for the next years lamb crop and future profitability of the flock! This Tech Talk discusses the importance of looking at your stock prior to tupping to ensure they are in optimal condition to serve and to be served. Assessing stock, a little in advance will also help identify animals which may need a little TLC to be ready for tupping!

Rams’ time to shine, do not wait until scanning to find out if he worked:

Although they are often left on the back burner for most of the year, around 30% of rams are sub fertile which highlights the importance of checking your rams before tupping!

At least 10-12 weeks prior to putting the ram in with the ewes, health checks and monitoring of rams should be a priority as there are extremely high risks at stake. If you have sub-optimal rams, you will of course have sub-optimal performance and in a worst-case scenario, no ewes in lamb highlighted at scanning!

Poor fertility is often a consequence of soft poor quality semen and soft testicles; testicular degeneration, which often occurs during hot weather. During warm periods, sheep lie down to transfer the heat away from their bodies through their abdomen, and in the meantime, they are lying on their testicles reducing the ability to cool them down which fundamentally “cooks” the sperm. A key point to note when shearing is to carefully trim any excess wool from the scrotum to help reduce the risk of overheating.

Ram MOT:

Although effective management of rams requires all year-round attention, 10-12 weeks before tupping is when rams require some time to ensure they are fit to performance. The best place to start is by conducting a Ram MOT, looking at the 5 T’s (toes, teeth, testicles, tone and treat); are rams fit for purpose and can any problems or issues be corrected?

Work with your vet to ensure a thorough examination and if there are any doubts. If purchasing any rams, ensure this is done well in advance of actual tupping to allow them to acclimatise to a new home and system.

*Remember, it takes 3 weeks for the rumen to adjust to a new diet.

Ram nutrition checklist:

10 weeks before tupping presents a good opportunity to supplementary feed to ensure condition (BCS of 3.5-4.0) and sperm quality. It is also important to ensure rams are not stressed out over this period as this can have impact on ram health and therefore fertility

  • High quality, palatable ration. 
  • High protein, 18%.
  • Look at the Mg and Ca levels in the diet to avoid urinary calculi.
  • For nutrition to impact sperm quality, it can take 30-40 days.

*Source: AHDB, 2018; Westpoint Vets, not dated; XL Vets, 2014.

Are the ewes ready?

Body condition score (BCS) is the first and the most fundamental point to consider when preparing ewes for tupping. The success of their pregnancy can be dictated by ewe BCS, if ewes are too lean; less eggs are ovulated which mean they are likely to have less lambs, and, if ewes are over fit; more eggs are ovulated, having greater risk on embryonic death and increased triplet rates. Aim for the BCS highlighted in the table below according to ewe type, it is quite common that from weaning to mating, a condition score of 0.5-1.0 is required.

 Lowland ewe (70kg)Hill ewe (50kg)
Weaning BCS2.52.0
Mating BCS3.52.5

Nutrition and BCS has an influence on ovulation rate for as much as 6 months before mating due to a ewe’s ovary having cycles of follicular development and maturation. This can be seen in lowland ewes which are in very low condition at weaning, typically BCS 2 or below at weaning. Despite achieving BCS 3 by mating, these ewes still tend to have a lower than expected scanning result.

DON’T FORGET to do a ewe MOT; to highlight and cull those which have undesirable teeth, udders, feet!

Flushing- should it be done?

Historically, farmers have tried to reduce ewe BCS in the dry period so they can then be flushed. Though this is inefficient, counterproductive and may require expensive supplementation. Also, maintaining that level through the implantation stage of the embryo can be difficult and there is the potential to push lean ewes, particularly older ones, to high ovulation rates, resulting in triplets with consequent problems later in pregnancy.

Feed a high energy compound (such as Champion Ewe) up to 0.5kg 2 to 6 weeks prior to putting the tup in. It is important to note that if ewes have good condition, then it is unlikely that ovulation rates will improve, therefore feed to maintain BCS.

BCS is important throughout the season, not just for mating! Flushing ewes should be a short term “fix”, with the aim to ensure BCS is maintained throughout the production cycle.

Considerations:

  • Very low BCS at weaning is likely to affect ovulation rate, even if BCS target is reached by mating.
  • If ewes are below BCS 2, explore to rule out other reasons such as poor teeth, lameness or ill health, eg Johne’s disease, ovine pulmonary adenocaricarnoma (OPA) or Maedi Visna (MV).
  • Deal with any lameness before rams go in to minimise disruption and optimise conception rate.
  • Check for worm burdens and do not graze red clover 45 days before or after mating.
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