The sheep breeding season spans a relatively large window – starting in August, peaking in September to October, and finishing in December for spring outdoor lambing.
Wherever you are and whenever your own lambing seasons starts, you ideally need to be putting the swings in motion 10+ weeks before tupping.
These 10 weeks are some of the most influential in proactively optimising the all-important bodily functions that impact on sheep farming profitability:
- Metabolism – for effective utilisation of feed.
- Immunity – for fighting infectious diseases and for normal cell function.
- Reproduction – for fertility, conception, and scanning percentages.
- Growth and maintenance – for foetal development lamb growth rates.
There’s no silver bullet for getting this right – it is multifaceted and depends on good timing and attention to detail.
The Countdown to Tupping Checklist
Preparing for tupping is multifaceted and highly dependant on many different factors. Here’s a simple way of breaking it down:
Ewe condition has a key role to play in ovulation, conception, and twin-lamb disease.
90% of a flock needs to hit the following body condition score (BCS) targets at breeding:
|Lowland ewes||BCS 3.5|
|Upland ewes||BCS 3|
|Hill breeds||BCS 2.5|
A visual assessment won’t give an accurate score, so manual handling must take place feeling behind the last rib for muscle and fat cover.
It takes 6-8 weeks to gain 1 condition score which is 10-13% of body weight or 8-9kg in a 70kg ewe. This means feeding an additional 7 megajoules (MJ) above maintenance requirements per day for this period.
With grass considerably cheaper than bought-in feeds, careful grassland management and grazing planning is required to minimise costs to condition. It is often recommended to split the flock into three groups – thin, fit and fat – and then offer grazing accordingly.
For thin or poor condition ewes, work with your vet to check them over for common issues – parasite, viral or bacterial infections and any udder, teeth, and feet issues. If sheep are chronically thin, test for Johne’s, OPA, Maedi Visna, and Border disease. Ewes with a history of prolapse and poor mothering should be culled as they are likely to do it again this year.
It takes several weeks for semen to develop in the ram, and so ensuring the ram will be at peak production at the right time needs to take place in advance of the breeding window.
Here are 6 things to check 10 weeks before tupping time:
- Testicles should be flexible but also as firm as a tensed bicep, and free of any lumps and bumps.
- Rams should track sound and treated for any foot-rot infection.
- Teeth should be checked for abnormalities and (molar) abscesses.
- Body condition score (BCS) should be between 3.5 and 4.0.
- Replacement tups should be on-farm for 4 or more weeks prior to breeding to allow time for biosecurity treatments, and to settle-in so they aren’t exposed to stress at the crucial hour. Check with your vet as it is very easy to import diseases and harder to get rid of them afterwards.
- Semen analysis through your vet will check for semen motility, density, and any signs of abnormality.
Forage is a highly valuable but also a highly variable nutrition source. In most cases, forage alone does not offer enough essential trace elements to satisfy the immune, digestive, reproductive and growth needs of breeding ewes and rams.
Almost all forage is short in one or more essential trace elements – cobalt, copper, iodine, and selenium.
Less than ENOUGH trace elements can impact on scanning percentages, feed efficiency, ewe and ram fertility, lamb thrift and growth rates.
Conversely, more than ENOUGH will either by-pass what the ewes can physically absorb or cause toxicity. Oversupply of trace elements is a waste of money and can be a risk to the environment.
To determine your flock’s current trace element status, a mineral audit consisting of a forage analysis and a dietary analysis (including all forages) can be undertaken.
Blood analysis with your vet can also be carried out on a suitable sample size of animals. Results of these tests should be discussed with a suitable advisor (vet, nutritionist and/or SQP) to form a suitable trace element feeding and supplementation regime.
With the caveat that different breeds and management types will have an impact, here’s a general guide on how many ewes a ram can cover:
|General||More Active Breeds|
|Mature Ram||Up to 45 ewes||Up to 70 ewes|
|Ram Lamb||Up to 25 ewes||Up to 40 ewes|
Note that lower ratios for the high demand periods may be acceptable if ewes have been synchronised ewes or where the “ram effect” was used with success.
All farmers should undertake ‘Best Practice Medicine training’ as advocated by Red Tractor. This includes both selection of medicines including vaccines and how to use responsibly.
Why Proactive Bolusing is Vital to Pre-Tupping
Copper is required during gestation by the ewe to develop the lamb’s nervous system.
Inadequate supply mid-pregnancy will result in the nervous system not forming correctly – known as swayback – which is untreatable.
A forage or soil analysis, or indeed studying any historic records of the farmland, can indicate if there is a copper deficiency and or antagonists. Always consult your vet or SQP to establish whether there is a need to supplement copper, as excess copper can result in copper toxicity which can be fatal.
Tracesure Sheep offers copper in the form of copper needles that lodge in the rumen wall before gradually dislodging and passing through into the abomasum where they are absorbed in the small intestine and stored in the liver. This facilitates a more consistent and continuous long-lasting supply of copper than other boluses.
Cobalt is converted by rumen bacteria into Vitamin B12 critical for energy cycles, metabolism, lamb growth and pregnancy.
Selenium is critical for normal cell function and essential for effective immune responses to viral, bacterial and parasite encounters. Selenium also supports the recovery from routine cell damage, commonly referred to as oxidative stress.
Tracesure Sheep with its specialist diffusion technology, contains the highest levels of selenium of any bolus in a safe form.
Iodine is an essential component of the thyroid hormone responsible for regulating metabolism, and thus all body functions including tupping and lambing.
Iodine deficiency in ewes during the breeding season can manifest as poor condition, reduced fertility, Goitre, and lamb weakness or even mortality. On the flipside, Iodine oversupply has been shown to impact immunoglobulin (IgG) function in newborn lambs, which can affect immune responses in the critical few weeks after birth.
Brassicas such as rape, kale or turnips contain goitrogens which can inhibit the availability of iodine, so supplementation can be critical for some diets containing such feed ingredients. The AHDB recommends removing pregnant ewes from brassicas at least one month prior to lambing.
Tracesure Sheep with Copper offers these essential trace elements at levels optimised to the animal’s requirements.
|Trace element||supply per bolus||Supply Per day||COMPARED TO other boluses|
|Cobalt||185 mg||≈ 1.03 mg||90-350mg|
|COPPER*||4,000 mg||≈ 22.2 mg||3300-4200mg|
|Iodine||660 mg||≈ 3.67 mg||100-750mg|
|selenium||100 mg||≈ 0.56 mg||20-70mg|
*Tracesure with Copper supplies copper in the form of copper oxide needles manufactured in the ANIMAX production facility to ensure specific parameters for optimal bioavailability are met.
Bioavailability (the ability of the trace elements to be absorbed and used by the body) is as important as trace element volumes. Different boluses use different sources of trace elements, which can affect the bioavailability and therefore more isn’t necessarily more.
Tracesure Sheep has been scientifically formulated and engineered to ensure there are ENOUGH trace elements to supply the ewe throughout a 6-month period in forms that are available to the animal and can be utilised effectively in the body.
How bolusing is easier and more precise
Some of the most common means of supplementation include offering buckets and/or blocks, drenching, injecting, pasture dressing, water supplementation, and mineral powders.
Bolusing is widely considered as one of the most sophisticated and precise methods of supplementation but is also widely underutilised.
Bolusing can be viewed as an assurance scheme, offering absolute confidence that all ewes and rams (and passively, lambs) are getting ENOUGH trace elements all the time. There are no questions or concerns as to whether every animal is getting the supplementation through the diet every day as needed. Bolusing takes away the daily guesswork and helps take away the daily issues resulting from under or over supply.
Bolusing is precise and easy
Proactively bolusing with a specialist bolus such as Tracesure Sheep requires only one application pre-tupping and once again pre-lambing. Some choose to bolus at scanning and post-lambing. In any case, its better to do it before the shortfalls occur and start to manifest their impact.
Bolusing is easy and practical to integrate into your system. The boluses can be applied in just minutes alongside other routine husbandry practices such as foot bathing or vaccination.
But this 6-month assurance scheme only applies when you select and use the right bolus.
Most boluses on the market claim to release trace elements over 6 months, sometimes more. But it’s the release pattern during this time that makes all the difference. Boluses that release nutrients by dissolving or eroding decrease in size and surface area, meaning the release of trace elements may be inconsistent. And because they lose mass and get smaller, there is a raised chance of the bolus being regurgitated or passed.
Tracesure Sheep boasts a patented diffusion technology that results in a carefully regulated trace element release. Unlike other boluses, Tracesure stays the same size, reducing the risk of the bolus being regurgitated or passed through in the manure. In fact, when Tracesure does eventually pass after the 6 months, it can come out looking much like it did when it went in!
Tracesure sheep is more concentrated offering the correct trace element level but in smaller compact size compared to other competitor boluses.
Top tips for bolus application
- SAFE! Ensure you have a suitable handling system and assistance as required.
- RESPECT! Bolusing is invasive so care is needed for ease and safety of application.
- TIME! Continue to hold the head once the applicator has been removed to ensure the bolus has been ingested.
Veterinary and nutritional advice should be sought before supplementation, particularly with regards to copper and selenium supplementation for the reasons already outlined.
Tracesure Cobalt is available for when cobalt is the only trace element in short supply.
Animax Copinox is available for the safe, precise and fast-acting treatment and prevention of congenital swayback in lambs and copper deficiency in ewes and calves. ANIMAX also manufacture an orally-administered nutritional copper product – Coprac – both contain copper oxide needles are released in the rumen within 30 minutes of administration.
For further information on Tracesure and to find out where you can get hold of Tracesure, please contact your local Animax specialist.