Livestock

Establishing your breeding season

You can make your breeding season, and therefore lambing period, as long or as short as you want or as suits your system. Ewes cycle on a 17-day cycle, so a 35-day breeding period is probably the most common, thus allowing most ewes two cycles with the tup present.

The longer you leave the tup in, the more ewes that are likely to conceive but your lambing period will be consequently longer. If you only have small numbers of ewes, you may want to have a shorter season and take the chance that some ewes will be barren.

I used to work on a farm lambing 600 ewes over a 7 week period, so on average 80 plus per week – although it didn’t quite work like that as the number lambing each day tailed off towards the end of lambing.

Anyway, with those numbers, it was “worth” getting up through the night because there was always something to do – either lambing or cade lambs to feed or something – plus there was four of us, so it was a night on and a night off.

With only a dozen ewes of my own, I can be up at 2am and 5am on lots of nights and NOTHING is happening and there’s only me (and Dan on the odd night).

We’ve previously left the tup in with the ewes for the full 34 days and most ewes have lambed within the first ten days or so and we’ve never had an empty ewe. Last autumn (2012), I only put the tup in for 28 days and we have two (of 11) ewes not in lamb. Next year, I think I will revert to the 34-day breeding season and buy more coffee.

Sponging for a compact lambing

If you want or need a compact lambing period, say to fit in with work commitments or holiday periods, you should discuss with your vet the use of hormone sponges to synchronise oestrus. If you do this though, more tup power is required (see the next section for ewe: tup ratios).

Time commitment for lambing

Lambing and working full-time isn’t really compatible. Ewes that are close to lambing really need to be checked every couple of hours, so leaving them all day without supervision is likely to compromise their welfare so if you can’t organise for you, or another competent person to provide adequate supervision over the lambing period, then perhaps it would be better to have a non-breeding flock.

Probably the most common date for tups to go in with the ewes is Bonfire Night (5th November), which gives a start date for lambing of April Fool’s Day (1st April). Who says sheep don’t have a sense of humour. :-)

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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