6 November 1998

Plan now to achieve top conception rates

Achieving good results with a May lambing flock means starting now, says Signets Peter Fairbank.

ACHIEVING good conception rates in May lambing flocks depends on getting management right now, and matching ewe numbers to feed supply.

So says Cotswolds-based Signet consultant Peter Fairbank. "The same principles apply prior to tupping as with spring lambing flocks. Aim for condition score three to 3.5 to maximise ovulation and maintain embryo survival.

"Much of the secret is good grassland management and planning. Remember that grass growth has stopped now and will not increase until spring. You will need enough feed to get through the winter, and have a decent bite for a month before lambing so you dont have to use concentrates."

Good grass growing conditions this year means ewes are in better condition, says Mr Fairbank. "This could be more of a problem in the run up to tupping. Condition score ewes now and adjust feed accordingly. Dont be tempted to tup cull ewes because of poor sale values as they wont perform in a late lambing system.

"Dont forget your rams – give them a full MOT. One or two rams not working will mess up your ewe to ram ratio. Aim for one tup to 40 ewes. Where tupping on sugar beet tops or stubble turnips, dont use a harness and raddle as mud gets behind it. This causes soreness and stops tups working."

Worm, foot trim and vaccinate ewes and rams now to get all stressful jobs out of the way, says Mr Fairbank.

"Plan ahead to tupping and beyond. Where using forage crops, such as sugar beet tops, its better to set folds rather than set stock so rams cover less ground."

Work out how much feed you have post-tupping to avoid any nutritional stress, he says. "May lambers who need to feed ewes after tupping because of forage shortage should begin feeding 10 days before tups go in. This allows ewes to adjust to concentrates prior to conceiving."

Consider how to feed concentrates to help avoid stress, says Mr Fairbank. "A snacker behind an ATV is ideal as it stops ewes from crowding round troughs.

"Ewes require energy at tupping, so I would feed 200-250g/ewe of sugar beet pulp nuts, although cereals would be cheaper and you might be able to feed these on the floor as well."

In fields which are difficult to get to, use high-energy blocks to supplement ewes, says Mr Fairbank. "These are more expensive but trials in Scotland have proved their worth. Ensure enough of them are available from the start to stop overcrowding. Initially ewes might eat a lot, but they tend to regulate the amount over time.

"Where using dairy keep or away wintering, it is a good idea to organise a contract to state whos responsible for the sheep so you know where you stand.

"For example, from a welfare angle, who is responsible for lame sheep? These things should be in writing rather than word of mouth to avoid problems for both parties." &#42