Saturday 12 November 2011

Start of the Shepherd's year

Big Eddie: Good to go
The shortening days after the summer solstice bring our sheep into breeding condition so that mating happens in the Autumn. Five months later the lambs are born to coincide with the growth of Spring grass and hopefully....better weather. Next Tuesday, November 15th is the start of the Shepherd's year. The tups (rams) go out and Big Eddie the Texel x Charollais tup is good to go. He has been trying to escape to meet up with the ewes since he arrived last week.

Twenty years ago you would never have seen an exotic tup like Eddie in the W. Highlands; hardy  Scottish Blackfaces and Cheviots were the breeds that fitted a low input / low output  production system. Now the market wants lambs with rounder rear ends and longer leaner carcasses. Then the ewes were kept in a state of near starvation throughout the year,  they produced a small single lamb and a lambing percentage of 80 - 90%. Now we mange the ewe's condition so that when she meets up with the tup next week she will have been on a rising plane of nutrition and will be producing several eggs for fertilisation because we are trying to get more twin lambs and a lambing percentage of 140-150%.

After mating we try to maintain the ewe's condition so that as many eggs as possible are implanted and survive to become healthy lambs in the Spring. In other words we feed them. They get sugar beet pulp to start with then after the New Year they have access to haylage which is somewhere between hay and silage. Its much easier to make in our unpredictable summer weather. Later just before lambing the protein and energy content of the ration is increased so that the ewe will develop milk secretion tissue and milk... the key to lamb survival and growth.

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