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Pre-tupping preparation of both rams and ewes is key to ensuring a healthy lamb crop is conceived at tupping time, and profitability is not compromised from the start.

Fertility – in both ewes and rams – is affected by many factors, including health, nutrition, body condition, genetics, age, season, stress and the environment.

Getting the rams ready

Rams should have a body condition score of 3.5 to 4 at tupping. So it is vital to ensure good nutrition and care for at least two months prior to this, as this is when sperm maturation takes place. Rams may benefit from a high protein (18-20%) ration.

If testicles have excess wool on, it is advisable to remove this during shearing. The normal temperature of a ram’s testicles is 4-5°C lower than the rectal temperature; this is the optimum for spermatogenesis, and higher temperatures can cause a decrease in production.

Genital examination of all breeding rams should be carried out. This is best done by putting them into a ‘sitting’ position. Then examine the scrotum and testicles: start by feeling from the base of the testicles and check for any abscesses, hernias or injuries. The testicles should be of an even size, move freely and feel like a human’s flexed bicep. A firm, even pressure should be applied during examination and if this elects any pain, it could be a sign of a problem.

The epididymis should be large and rounded - the presence of any hard lumpy deformities indicates an infection may be present. Any hard swelling at the head of the testicle should also be viewed with suspicion, and both cases warrant examination by your vet.

The prepuce (foreskin) should be examined and assessed for any signs of injury, orf and abnormal discharge such as blood. Blood can indicate infectious diseases which can spread to ewes during service, so ask your vet for advice.

As a rule of thumb, mature rams should have a scrotal circumference of more than 36cm and ram lambs more than 34cm.

Semen quality is important too, so ask your vet to test all your breeding rams in the run-up to tupping.  Semen samples will need to be examined immediately under a microscope, to assess its density, and sperm motility and live:dead ratio.

The breeding ability of rams reaches its peak between 2 and 5 years old and will decline after this. Both young and old rams would be inappropriate for intensive breeding system. A fertile mature ram should be able to successfully inseminate 85% of a batch of 60 ewes in their first reproductive cycle. Ram lambs should be able to get 85% of 40 ewes pregnant after one mating.

Vaccination against clostridial diseases, Pasteurella , Louping Ill should be done at least 10 weeks prior to tupping.

Ewe care

Ewe health is the other half of your flock’s fertility.

If toxoplasma and enzootic abortion are a risk on your farm, then ewes will need to be vaccinated four to six weeks before tupping. If in any doubt as to whether your flock needs protection, then ask your vet for advice.

Similarly, fit, mature ewes should not require worming before tupping. However, young or thin ewes may need drenching. If the farm is in a known fluke area, then administering some fluke drench should be considered. Again, ask your vet for advice.

Blood sampling of ewes well in advance of tupping should be used as a tool to check a flock’s trace element status. Selenium, in particular, is important in conception rates – trace elements play an integral role in fertility. So blood test results may indicate mineral supplementation to the ewes’ diet is needed.

There is a strong correlation between body condition score and ovulation and conception rates. So at least three weeks prior to tupping, ewes should be ‘flushed’ on good quality feed to increase ovulation rate.

The udder health of all ewes should be assessed. Animals with lumpy hard udders or infections should be culled. Also, ewes with very large teats or slack udders should be culled as these can have problems mothering and there is an increased mastitis risk.

The average lowland ewe:ram ratio is 40:1, but can be as high as 80:1 to 100:1 in some systems. With the right ‘fit’ ram, many more ewes can be served.

Post weaning ewes should be conditioned scored, put into groups and fed accordingly, so that they approach the next tupping period in an appropriate body condition (see table 1).

Table 1 Body Condition Score for ewes at mating

 

Hill Ewes

Upland Ewes

Lowland Ewes

At Weaning

2

2

2.5

At tupping

2.5

3

3.5

Mid-pregnancy

2

2.5

3

At lambing

2

2.5

3

 

Health checks for both

The foot health of both ewes and rams is also important: Check all feet and identify causes of lameness. Cull any sheep which have been infected more than twice with footrot.,

Similarly, all breeding animals should have their teeth, eyes and fleece checked over.

In order to maximize returns, all factors must be considered and improvements made where necessary; pre-tupping examination is an excellent area to focus initial efforts on and which pays dividends if carried out thoroughly. 

Donald S McGregor & Partners Ltd is a company registered in Scotland SC495194 | Registered Address: Veterinary Surgery, Janet Street, Thurso, KW14 7EG

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