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Preparing for lowland and hill flock mating

With mating time on the Teagasc BETTER sheep farms looming quickly on the horizon, particularly for the lowland flocks, preparations are well under way. Frank Campion, Teagasc Research Officer, discusses this and the mating of hill flocks further into the year.


A key part of this preparation is ensuring that ewes are thoroughly checked remove remaining cull ewes and any ewes with issues not already identified. This work has been taking place since weaning alongside identifying and marking under conditioned ewes. Thin ewes at weaning are not an issue but thin ewes that fail to regain body condition before mating can be, hence why it is important under thin ewes are marked so that if they fail to regain condition prior to mating they can be culled from the flock. Failing to regain body condition (BCS) during this period can indicate underlying issues that will probably prevent that ewe from performing during the rest of the year.

Most of the flocks in the programme will remove the thinnest ewes from the main flocks for preferential feeding approximately 8-10 weeks before mating.  In most cases these ewes will be run with the ewe lambs in the run up to mating to allow them preferential access to good quality grass. The target for lowland ewes going to the ram is a BCS of 3.5 at mating, however, averages can be dangerous and hide problems if there is a wide range of BCS’s within a flock. Another way to look at it is to focus on reducing the number of ‘thin’ ewes or reduce to the minimum the number of ewes less than BCS 3.0 at mating time as these ewes are the ewes most likely to underperform throughout production season. The variation that can be observed within flocks can be seen in Table 1 where flocks with similar average BCS’s from mating can have a variation in the number of ewes in less BCS 3.0 at mating. 

Table 1 - Average ewe BCS and proportion of mature ewes with BCS <3.0 at mating time from four of the lowland Teagasc BETTER farm sheep flocks from the 2020 mating season.

Average ewe BCS 3.3 3.3 3.5 3.6
% < 3.0 10 16 6 0

As mentioned the process of checking ewe body condition and marking off thin ewes began about 8-10 weeks prior to the ram being introduced for the BETTER farm sheep flocks and over the years this has been shown to consistently improve ewe BCS at mating time. An example of this is presented in Table 2 for a flock who went from not identifying and dealing with thin ewes prior to mating to introducing a plan similar to the one described earlier and this has improved the flock BCS at mating significantly over the last 3 mating seasons.  However, for those who haven’t done this yet it’s still better late than never. For flocks not mating until mid-late October there is still a number of weeks to try and correct some BCS issues prior to mating but it typically takes 8-10 weeks for a ewe to regain 1 full body condition score.

Table 2 - Changes in ewe BCS at mating and the proportion of ewes with BCS <3.0 at mating time on a flock over three years.

Average ewe BCS 2.9 3.4 3.5
% < 3.0 47 12.5 6


For the hill flocks in the programme mating is not quite as close on the horizon but is still beginning to come into focus. Ewe BCS is every bit as a big a focus for these flocks and has been consistently shown over the years ewe BCS at mating has a huge influence on pregnancy rates in hill ewe. While grass will be limited on these farms and it should be prioritised towards ewes at this time of the year and at mating as opposed to lambs, which where grass supplies are limited should be sold as stores.

The hill flocks in the programme weaned their lambs during August and a summary of the weights is presented in Table 3. Lambs performance to weaning was good across the flocks comparatively good store lamb prices has seen a lot of the flocks sell their lambs as stores this year as opposes to finishing lambs on farm. This decision is very much an individual decision for each farm and will depend on grass supplies, facilities available for finishing lambs on farm and what prices are available for selling store lambs. A typical store lamb budget can be calculated using the Teagasc store lamb calculator which is available at www.teagasc.ie

Table 3. Lamb performance from the Teagasc BETTER hill sheep flocks from birth to 14 weeks (weaning).

Birth TypeGrowth Rate Birth to 14 Weeks
14 Week Weight (kg) 
  Mean Range Mean Range
1 225 202-243 27.0 24.6-30.9
2 175 154-189 22.6 18.8-27.9

If you like this article you might also be interested in reading Checking condition of Hill ewes.

The Teagasc Sheep Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers on Tuesdays here on Teagasc Daily. Find more on Teagasc Sheep here. For any further information or assistance contact your local Teagasc Office here: Advisory Regions.