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  • Writer's pictureFlockFinder Team

FlockFinder Guide to Tupping 🐑🐏


Title Image: Guide to Tupping
FlockFinder guide to Tupping

The importance of the tupping period

Tupping represents the beginning of the sheep year. A good tupping period will set the tone for the rest of the year, whereas a compromised tupping period will limit farm returns.


When to start tupping

This will depend on the flock management system you are using, with a variety of approaches used across the UK. However, the most farms will start tupping in September/October to achieve a February/March lambing period.


147 Day gestational calendar
Gestation periods

(Based on 147 days gestation)


Preparing ewes for tupping

Body conditioning

Ewes which have a higher level of body conditioning at mating have higher ovulation rates, and therefore higher lambing percentages. Low body condition delays the onset of oestrus and increases the proportion of barren ewes.


It is therefore important to give ewes sufficient time to recover post-weaning in order to regain their conditioning. Wean no later than 20 weeks from lambing (12 is typical) to allow time for body condition to recover.


Assess the condition score of ewes 10-12 weeks before tupping and aim for a target score of 3.5 for lowland (2.5-3.0 for hill) flocks. This can often be achieved on good-quality autumn grass, but if grass quality is low (or ewes are thin) consider adding additional feed.


Guidance on how to assess the condition score of your ewes can be found here.


Ewe health check and culling

After lambs have been weaned, it is important to review your flock and identify any ewes that are no longer fit for breeding.

  • Udder: check the udder for lumps, hardness or excessive heat. Look for damaged teats or signs of orf. Checking at this stage can help reduce the number of foster lambs later in the year.

  • Legs: examine for evidence of injury or disease. Trim the feet as required and treat any identified cases of footrot.

  • Teeth: examine for good overall health. Standards differ across farms, but the overall aim here is to ensure that the ewe will survive the winter and be able to rear, and feed, a lamb(s).

  • Check your records: Ewes that have had problems, such as prolapse, mastitis etc. should be culled from the flock. Ewes which were barren may be retained but should be monitored closely.

  • Don't forget to check glimmers (an un-tupped female sheep) to ensure they are suitable for breeding.

Screenshot: Ewe marked for culling in FlockFinder
FlockFinder - Animal marked for culling

If you have been managing your flock with FlockFinder, you can filter your livestock and review any ewes that have been marked for culling.


It is important to complete any stressful treatments, such as dipping, well in advance of tupping as excess stress after mating can increase the chance of lost embryos in early pregnancy.


A note on pre-flushing with wormers. This should only be necessary where a feacal egg count is 300 or more. See our guide to worming to find out more.


Preparing rams for tupping

If health problems are spotted early they may be corrected before the start of tupping or, in the worst case, alternative arrangements can be made.

Rams should be in a good above-average body score as they often walk many miles over the mating period on a limited diet. A good body condition at the outset will help maintain a good work rate through tupping.


A high-nutrition diet, rising in the 6-8 weeks before tupping, and containing good quality roughage and trace minerals is recommended.


Ram health check

As rams are only used for about 6 weeks of the year, health issues can often be overlooked. Identify any old rams for culling, along with those with poor mouths, bad feet or excessively poor condition.

Other than appearing to be in good overall health, there are some areas you should focus on to ensure your Rams are ready to tupping.

  • Teeth: Teeth should meet the pad, and there should be no signs of abnormalities or obsesses in the haw.

  • Feet and legs: Check for lameness or footrot. Strong feet are required for mobility while serving the ewes so continue to observe the rams for any signs of discomfort.

  • Fleece: check for parasites and treat accordingly.

  • Sores: inspect head, brisket etc. for signs of damage or infection and treat. Introduce new rams slowly to reduce fighting.

  • Scrotum: The skin of the scrotum should have a healthy appearance and any excess fleece here should be removed. Maintaining the testicles at a slightly lower temperature than the rest of the body aids sperm production. The testicles should feel smooth and firm, be more or less symmetrical and move freely within the scrotum. At the base of the testicle a walnut sized hard lump the epididymis should become firm at the start of the breeding season, and the skin on the inside of the top of the legs should become coloured.

  • Semen Testing: If in doubt, your veterinary surgeon can take semen samples to assess the fertility status over at least two different dates.


Health testing & infections diseases

Rams should be tested for Border disease and Actinobacillus seminis before being used on the flock. This is particularly important for rams purchased from outside the farm.


It is good practise to quarantine new rams for a period of 10 days to allow for any diseases to develop and for the animals to settle into its new environment.

As rams will have contact with a considerable proportion of the flock, you should also check for infectious diseases, including:

Table showing common sheep diseases
Common Sheep Diseases

Don't forget to check your teaser rams!


The teaser effect

The “teaser effect” is a very powerful way to encourage the ewes to start cycling regularly as they come into season. Teasers are vasectomised rams that maintain all the male characteristics, but are unable to get ewes in lamb.


The teasers promote a tighter lambing period by serving the ewes at the very start of their season when they often have a non fertile heat, giving the entire rams the best chance of catching the fertile cycles and not tiring them out.


To maximise this effect, ewes should be kept away from the sight, sound or smell of any male sheep for four to six weeks and then stimulated either by introducing teasers, or the increasing proximity of rams, 10 to 14 days pre-tupping.

Teasers can be used at a ratio of 1 per 100 ewes.


Tupping

Feeding during tupping

Maintain high feed intake during mating. A ewe’s ovulatory follicles are stimulated on a day-to-day basis by the available nutrition. Ewes with a higher level of feed intake are able to produce extra ovulations by the development of ovulatory follicles that otherwise would have regressed and failed to ovulate.


This is the reason for ‘flushing’, essentially increasing the feeding level for two weeks, prior to tupping. Recent research shows that the adverse effects on ovulation rate of poor nutrition 6 months prior to the breeding season can be offset by flushing. If the ewes had a particularly stressful summer lactation and lost a lot of condition try flushing them prior to mating.


How many rams do I need

This varies from farm to farm, typically levels in the UK are 1 ram per 30-40 ewes. However, some lowland farmers are able to achieve a ratio of 1:100 with mature rams being mated with mature ewes.


The number of rams per ewe is not as important as ram fitness. Overfed and/or overweight animals have a lower mating capacity. Do not to put novices together, always mix experience rams with maiden ewes and visa versa.


It is better to avoid having 2 tups in a field at the same time, as they might decide to spend more time fighting than mating. Try to make sure the ewe numbers are adequate for one tup, or for larger groups would be better to have a third “spare” (e.g. 3 rams for 100 ewes).


In this way, they can all go round mating or if two get carried away fighting, the third one should be able to do his job and you won’t miss any cycles.


How long will it take

A ewes fertile cycle is 17 days and the rams should be left with the ewes for 2-3 cycles to ensure the best chances of success.


It is recommended to fit a raddle on your rams so you can get an idea of how quickly the ram is getting around the flock from the colour on the ewes rumps.


Ideally you want more than half of them (65% or more) mated in the first cycle.


After this time you will want to change the raddle colour so you can spot the ewes that were mated in the following cycles, and also those that got caught again.


It is important to know if there are high numbers of ewes mated in more than one cycle as this could mean there are fertility issues in the flock and you might need to investigate with your vet.


Let the pregnancy establish

After the rams are removed, leave the ewes undisturbed for approximately 6 weeks. It is crucial to avoid any undue stride during this period in order to allow for the pregnancies to establish.


Nutrition after tupping

Having achieved the correct body condition at mating and achieved high feed intake, the next priority is to maximise embryo survival.


All the evidence points to a maintenance feeding level in the first month of pregnancy being best for ensuring maximum embryo survival.


This avoids the suppressing effect that high feeding levels have on the key hormone (progesterone) that is required for the maintenance of pregnancy and embryo survival, while at the same time avoiding any deleterious effects of undernutrition.


For early lambing ewes, mated in August, the availability of grass is such that steps have to be taken to restrict herbage allowance to maintenance during the first month of pregnancy.


Summary

  • Ewes with a good body condition score (around 3.5) achieve higher lambing percentages. Give your ewes enough time to recover post-weaning.

  • Perform health checks to ensure that ewes and rams are fit, healthy, disease free and in good condition before tupping.

  • Consider using ‘Teasers’ to help encourage the ewes and tighten the lambing period.

  • Deploy rams at a ratio of around 1:30 for best performance and try to avoid even numbers of rams in each field.

  • Do not put novices together, always mix maiden ewes with an experienced ram (or visa-versa).

  • Keep the rams in place for 2-3 cycles and measure their progress using a raddle.

  • Minimise stress for 6 weeks after tupping to allow the pregnancies to establish.



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