Preparing the tup

In the seven months between the start of lambing and the tups working again, it’s almost easy to forget about them. The boys will be grazing quietly somewhere waiting for November but tups need to be properly managed if they are to do the best job possible, so don’t forget to include them in any worm tests, shearing and routine treatment for internal and external parasites.

You should start preparing your tup about two months before he’s due to start work, because that how long it takes for sperm production to get going. So you want him healthy and in good condition, with his feet in good nick too – your tup will cover a lot of ground during the mating period and will spend a good bit of it on his back legs too.

Sperm production is enhanced by low temperatures, so you may want to trim excessive wool from the scrotum – but do be careful for obvious reasons.

If you run your tup with your ewes outwith the breeding season, do alert your shearer to this and tell him when the tup is next to be shorn. Shearers work fast and the last thing you want is a nick to your tup’s penis with the clippers. :-(

Checking your tups in plenty time also give you the opportunity to find a replacement if you have concerns.

Teaser tups

Some breeders use teaser tups to encourage ewes to come into season. Teasers are vasectomised tups – not castrated – so they function as an entire tup but cannot impregnate ewes. For a small flock, this might not be feasible though.

In the last couple of seasons, we have kept the tup (we only have one at any time) in a paddock adjacent to the one the ewes are in for two weeks prior to going in with them.

There’s lots of flirting along the fence line and certainly most are cycling when he goes in – last year, we could hardly get him through the gate because of the ewes crowding him. :-)

We can do this because our breed is not terribly athletic but there is always the chance of the tup going over or through the fence before the planned date.

Preparing the ewes

In the same way as for the tup, preparation starts a couple of months before you plan to introduce the tup. If your ewes have lambs at foot, you will need to wean them – not before the lambs are sixteen weeks of age but early enough to give the ewes a couple of months to recover body condition.

Ewes are usually put on to poor grass after weaning to help dry up the milk supply, while the weaned lambs are put on to the best grass – often grassland that has been cut for hay. Since this land won’t have had stock on it for several months, it will be relatively worm free.

At tupping, lowland ewes should have a condition score of 3.0 - 3.5, hill ewes 2.5 – 3.0. Ewes in CS 2.5 at tupping should be on a rising plane of nutrition, so move ewes on to good, plentiful grass a couple of weeks prior to tupping.

If grass supply is poor, you can compensate by feeding some concentrates. Increasing the plane of nutrition in the run up to tupping is called flushing and it can help increase the number of lambs produced by encouraging the ewe’s body to release more eggs.

About a month before introducing the tup, test the ewes for worms and treat if required. We treat for fluke at this time too, as well as checking and trimming feet and removing soiled or excess wool round the tail.

After the tupping period, ewes should be kept on a good diet and stress free for two to three weeks to allow fertilised eggs to become implanted in the uterus. For the remaining first trimester (third), the placenta develops so maintain a good diet and this is essential for healthy and robust lambs; during the middle third, ewes can be maintained on a forage diet until about 7 weeks before lambing.

The end of the beginning

In subsequent articles we'll cover pre-lambing care, preparing for lambing, lambing, and care of lambs and ewes post-lambing.

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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