By Kirsten Williams, snr beef and sheep consultant at SAC Consulting

Tupping triggers the start of the sheep year so the condition of the ewe is paramount at this time.

Ewes not in the correct condition can ovulate fewer eggs, have erratic oestrus and can incur higher incidences of embryonic losses, all reducing the potential lamb crop.

To ensure ewes are in the correct condition for tupping, they must be assessed six-eight weeks earlier to allow for a change in management. Moving a condition score involves a 13% change in liveweight, equivalent to taking a Scotch Mule from 65kg to 75kg. This sort of weight increase takes time and management, so an early assessment is essential to ensure ewes are back in optimum condition for tupping.

Following this year’s challenging grass-growing conditions, many ewes were weaned earlier to allow for the best nutrition to be targeted to the lambs. Now it is time for the ewes to be prioritised, they should be split between thin, fit and fat ewes.

Sheep are behavioural animals, which graze and lie down as a group particularly as they come into season. Thin ewes will have a higher appetite drive than fitter ewes and are more likely to express this and graze for longer if they are kept separately. Ideally, these thin ewes should be on better quality grass with a sward height of more than 6cm with leafy vegetation that they can harvest easily. If these ewes do not regain condition within three-four weeks, discussions should be made with a vet.

Ensure that there is a plan for which fields are to be used pre-tupping as well as throughout tupping, making sure there is a suitable grass wedge for these requirements. Avoid grazing fields of red clover 45 days before and after mating to prevent a reduction in fertility due to the high level of phytoestrogens.

While ewes are handled for condition scoring, they can be crutched, which can aid conception rates, and keep ewes clean over the winter.

All purchased breeding stock should be purchased at least six weeks prior to tupping. This period allows for post-sale quarantine and vaccination programmes for abortion, clostridial and feet diseases.

When breeding your own replacements, it’s important to remember that sexual maturity is related to weight and not age. The lamb should target 60% of her mature body weight (eg: 48kg for a 80kg Mule) at tupping and a gimmer 80% of her mature body weight (eg: 64kg for a 80kg Mule) at tupping. As a weight guide, Mule lambs should target 38-40kg in September when decisions on flock replacements are being made and should be in condition score 3.

Good nutrition is essential for these growing animals to ensure high conception rates. Ewe lambs are best to be run with older mature rams as they are less likely to go and seek a ram when in oestrus compared to a ewe.

It is essential to know which minerals and trace elements are imbalanced on your farm before routinely treating breeding sheep – this should be discussed with your vet or nutritional advisor.

There are various options on the market for treating sheep including bolus, drenches, free access minerals and tubs. Knowing what the deficiency is before treating is key, as oversupplying nutrients can cause as many problems as under supplying nutrients. It is vitally important to ensure ewes are not being over-supplemented throughout the year. For example, choose one treatment strategy once you know your farm requirements such as either bolus or drenching pre-tupping but not a combination of both. Make sure you are aware of the persistence of the product so that you can plan when the next treatment is required.

This article has been produced through Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service (FAS) which is part of the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) that is co-funded by the EU and Scottish Government