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Sheep Preparation for the Breeding Season


While mating season is mostly October and November, the time to be assessing your flock is now. Colm Murray, B&T Drystock Advisor, Teagasc, Galway/Clare has some information and advice on preparing your flock for the breeding season.

2020 has been a strange year in many ways. Nothing seems to be how we would have predicted it and we have so many new “norms” in many parts of our lives. However, despite all of these adjustments to our new way of life, the seasons continue to change and the sheep breeding season is just around the corner. While this year may have been especially tough on farmers, and indeed rural Ireland, we can now start to look at optimising our ewes and rams to ensure that next spring will run as smoothly as possible.

While mating season is mostly October and November, the time to be assessing your flock is now. Once ewes are dried off after weaning, they can be assessed to find out whether they are suitable for the next breeding season.

Body Condition Score

  • Ewes should have a body condition score of at least 3.5 prior to mating: ewes should be fit not fat.
  • A ewe with a body condition score of 2.5 will take approximately 10 weeks of good quality grass to get to a body condition of 3.5.
  • Ewes with a poor body condition score can be prioritised and drafted to a separate bunch to give them a chance to improve. An option here could also be to put the thin ewes in with ewe lambs.

Teeth

  • A ewe’s mouth needs to be assessed to cull any old ewes.
  • Ewes with overshot or undershot mouths need to be culled.

Feet

  • Farmers need to inspect ewe’s feet and to look out for and to treat scalds and footrot.
  • Farmers need to look out for stiff, old ewes.
  • Lame ewes should be drafted and treated, especially ewes with footrot.
  • If treated ewes are not recovering, they need to be culled.

Prolapse

  • Ewes that have prolapsed in the past should not be kept.
  • Ewes that have gotten mastitis in previous lambing seasons need to be culled.
  • Ewes need to be assessed for pendulous udders (hanging udders).
  • Ewes that have had blind teats previously need to culled.
  • Udders need to be examined for lumps and/or lesions.

Udders

Rams also need to be examined and assessed before breeding season. The ram is half the flock so it is very important that he is fit and has no problems.

Body Condition

  • Like the ewes, the rams also need to be examined for their body condition score. Rams ideally need to have a body condition score of 4: fit not fat.
  • If your ram is thin, you need to investigate: is it due to disease, age, lameness or teeth?
  • It is critical that a ram’s body condition is good as he can lose up to 15% of his body condition during a mating season of 6 weeks.
  • It can take up to eight weeks for a ram to build his body condition up to the optimum for breeding season.

Lameness

  • It’s important to ensure that the ram’s feet are in good order and that there is no evidence of previous sores.
  • Check the ram’s brisket for sores. This could indicate excessive lying from lameness.
  • Make sure that each ram is walking correctly.
  • Watch for rams that are keen to lie down and find out why.

Teeth

  • Ram’s mouths need to be assessed to cull any old rams.
  • Rams with overshot or undershot mouths need to be culled.

Reproductive organs

  • Check reproductive organs for infection or damage from shearing.
  • Testicles should be evenly sized, be able to move freely within the scrotum and not have any lumps.

Because of all of the above reasons, it is important to have your flock assembled at least two months before mating season so that any impending problems are identified and treated or any replacements are acquired. Sheep that have presented with health problems in the past are likely to have ongoing health complications. Problems that present during the year should be recorded effectively using ear notching, ear tags or manually keeping track of their tag numbers. Spray markers are unreliable and can fade or disappear with shearing.