Selecting breeding stock - the tup

While AI is available for use in sheep breeding, smallholders don’t commonly use it. Most of us the tried and tested method – the tup (or ram).

Hiring or borrowing a tup

If you don’t want to keep a tup of your own, you may be able to hire or borrow one. If you are breeding pedigree stock, your breed society may be able to help. If you only have a few ewes, a ram lamb will be fine and a breeder may be willing to lend him to confirm that he is fertile.

It pays to plan in advance and you may have to lamb slightly later if the ram is covering is owner’s ewes before he comes to you.

Buying a tup

If you decide to buy a tup, you need to think about where you are going to keep him outwith the breeding season. He should not be kept on his own, so if he’s your only one, you should keep a wether for company. Tups will become aggressive towards each other in the run up to the breeding season, especially if they can scent ewes coming into season – they can and do fight; they can and do kill each other and a wire stock fence may not be sufficient to keep warring tups apart.

LeoOur first tup - Leo (Fetternear Lionheart)

If you don’t have any ewe lambs that could be mated by accident, you can run the tup with the ewes over winter and through lambing. Just watch that he doesn’t bully the ewes at feeding time. You will have to take him out in the summer though, especially if your breed is not strongly seasonal, or you could end up lambing for a very extended period indeed.

Remember, your tup is 50% of your flock and therefore has a huge influence on lamb quality and number. If you are buying, buy the best tup you can afford; if you are retaining ram lambs for breeding, especially if you are a new pedigree breeder, be sensible about retaining your first ram lambs for future breeding – you will undoubtedly think that your lambs are wonderful but it’s worth getting the advice and opinion of someone with experience of that breed to impartially assess their quality.

Replacing your tup

If you are retaining ewe lambs as future breeding stock, you will need to change your tup every two seasons unless you have sufficient space to accommodate two flocks, or you will be breeding father to daughters and this is not a good thing to do.

NemoNemo, Leo's replacement after two seasons

How many ewes can a tup cover?

The number of ewes that a single tup can be expected to successfully mate with depends on a number of factors such as age, condition, terrain and the size of the field. If ewes are cycling well, a tup can mate with 3-4 ewes a day and the recommended ration of ewes: tup is between 35 and 50:1.

Ram lambs become sexually mature at about 5 months but should be at least 50-60% of adult weight before being used for breeding; if you are using a ram lamb, you should expect him to cover only 15-20 ewes in a 34-day period.

If you are using sponges to synchronise the oestrus cycle, you will need one tup for every 10 ewes.

Tup characteristics

Rams selected for breeding should be excellent examples of their breed or type; they should be healthy, have sound feet, move well, have faultless mouths and have normal genitalia.

Not surprisingly, scrotal size has an influence on fertility of the tup by influencing semen production but there is also evidence that it can influence the reproductive performance of his daughters. A mature ram should have a scrotal circumference of not less than 32cm; a ram lamb of not less than 30cm.

He should also have two sound teats – again reflecting his influence on his daughters.

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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