Attention to detail in the run up to tupping is critical to the success of next year’s lamb crop and profits.
And as more hill flocks seek to achieve a tighter lambing pattern to improve efficiency and reduce labour costs, getting the basics right is crucial.
According to North Yorkshire hill farmers Brian and Matthew Lawson, who run 1,100 Swaledales at Buddle House near Richmond, getting the right tup-to-ewe ratio and allowing them plenty of time to settle before the tups are turned out is essential.
The flock’s lambing percentage for pure Swaledales is about 130% and last year the flock’s crossing ewes – all put to Texel tups – achieved 202%.
Both rates have been steadily improving, but like many hill flocks running fewer sheep to fulfil environmental scheme requirements, more shearlings are producing twins when single lambs would have been preferred for their first crop.
As well as making sure ewes have better grazing for about three weeks before tups are loosed, the Lawsons give free access to high-phosphorous minerals. “Having more sets of twins to deal with means it’s important that ewes are in good order,” says Brian.
“We aim for a tight lambing, so turn teasers out with the crossing ewes for about two to three weeks to try and get ewes cycling. When the breeding tups go out we give them from 50 ewes up to 80 – but no more than that.
“We want tups to be as effective as possible – and in good condition before they start work – and give them a bit of hand feed during tupping if they’ll take it,” he says.
Making sure all routine dosing and vaccinations have been done well ahead of tupping time also ensures ewes have a stress-free preparation period, says Brian.
“Having put all the effort into tupping time, I think it’s important to maintain a stress-free period for ewes in the immediate weeks before tupping and those that follow. Once the tups are out, we leave the ewes alone and then just open the fell gates and let them drift back. We won’t handle them again until scanning time,” he says.
Top tupping tips
Cumbria vet Matt Colston of Frame, Swift and Partners gives his top tupping tips
- There’s a potential risk this autumn of fluke-infected ewes being light in condition at tupping – there’s still a significant fluke challenge
- Dung samples should be taken to check for fluke where ewes are thin
- It’s essential to find out why some ewes aren’t as fit as they should be – talk to your vet to ensure the right action is taken, rather than simply relying on flushing on better grazing to gain condition
- Fluke-infected ewes could have higher worm burden
- Under-dosing is still a major issue, so weigh ewes to ensure effective treatment
- Hill sheep should be in condition score 2 at tupping – turn on to 4-5cm of grass to achieve 0.5 condition score gain a month
- Flushing thin ewes can lead to them carrying twins when they can’t cope with a multiple pregnancy – higher risk of losses and weakly lambs
- Take blood samples to check ewes for mineral deficiencies and to avoid cost of treatment when not needed – more cost-effective to target with specific minerals as required
- Be mindful of immediate post-tupping management – weight loss after tupping causes lack of development of the placenta – a small placenta means a small lamb
- Avoid significant stress in mid-third of pregnancy to prevent embryo loss
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