Thursday, October 22, 2015

Autumn at Fairfax Ryelands

Again, it's been a while since we updated our blog. So much goes on and time just seems to slip by.

We've had a wonderful summer showing our sheep, learning huge amounts as we go from more experienced shepherds and also by just sharing ideas with fellow keepers of these wonderful sheep. Our shearlings did particularly well this showing season but our lambs were probably born a little late to compete with those who were far bigger, born earlier in the year... something for us to work on for next season.

This year we weaned our lambs slightly earlier and administered a hormone implant to our breeding ewes, all of them were injected apart from ones who were still attending shows. This approach has allowed us to monitor the success of the treatment by having the show sheep act as a control group. The administration of the implant was relatively simple being injected just behind the ear and it degrades over time so no need to handle the ewes for a second time as with sponging. we also added 3 new rams to our flock this year, 2 were purchased approximately 2 months before tupping, the other a week before the ewes went in. Again, this allowed us to see if giving the ram time to settle after moving farms made any difference to his performance. Obviously this does not take in to account any other factors which might affect fertility/performance within the group but general observations were made and will probably influence our future plans.

so our ewes were blood tested and condition scored at the time of hormone injection, approximately 6 weeks before tupping. Condition scores were all 2.5 - 3 suggesting the ewes were recovering well from feeding their lambs. Some of the ewes, mostly the shearlings, were nearly at 3.5 and with 6 weeks to go before the rams went in that was probably a little on the chubby side. This is often the case with youngsters but it was a concern. Blood test results came back approximately 1 week later and were used to identify any metabolic inadequacies within the flocks. Generally they were all fine and as a flock they came back within normal range however one ewe did demonstrate cobalt deficiency and the flock were on the low end of average. On a large scale farm this would have been over looked as the average is calculated to see if it falls within healthy parameters but all our sheep tested were individually identified. Rolo was deficient in cobalt and quite dramatically!! After several conversations with our vet and further investigation we could not find the cause, no symptoms were present. we had a choice, treat or ignore. We chose to treat the whole breeding flock with a B12 injection to give them a boost before tupping. Three weeks later along with the retained lambs a vitamin and mineral drench was administered. All our ewes went to the ram looking well and I was confident in their metabolic status. They will have another set of bloods taken approximately 6 weeks before lambing to identify any issues which might cause poor lactation and growth in next years lambs. The retained ewe lambs seemed to appreciate their drench and are growing like weeds, increasing their weights much faster than previous crops. This year we have also moved them away to a 8 acre hay field with good bite on it after cutting. They're having a great time!

so back to the ewes, in went the rams 6 weeks after the hormones. The ewes who were injected definitely cycled earlier and most within two weeks of the rams being introduced. We have tupped a good month earlier this year and were pleased with the results of the hormones. Ewes who hadn't been treated cycled much later, in some instances up to one month later which does give us two lambing periods but with sufficient gap in between to hopefully get a rest! I think we will give the hormone treatments a few weeks earlier next year to achieve even better results.

And what about the rams... well 3 were unproven shearlings, 2 purchased in the summer and given time to settle, 1 purchased just before tupping and our 4th ram has been here for the last 2 years so is well established. The results of these differing groups proved the most fascinating. The ram who is experienced and been with us for several years served his ewes once and all held, all had received hormone treatments. These ewes were all aged ewes and were on the lower end of the condition score. The 1 shearling ram who had been purchased months before tupping again served all his ewes once and again they all held, again all these ewes had received hormones. He had a mix of aged ewes and shearlings, all his group were of a condition score of 3. The other shearling ram who had  arrived in the summer served all his ewes well, his group again contained a mix of ewes who had received hormone treatment/ not received treatment and were shearlings and aged ewes. Some of this group contained our show sheep along with some others who were a little on the chubby side. The ewes who had not received hormone treatment repeated but have held on their 2nd service. It is worth noting these ewes were also of a condition score of 3.5. Our final group contained the ram we purchased just before tupping. He had a mix of shearlings and aged ewes, the aged ewes had received hormones. Within this group several ewes repeated but again seem to have held on 2nd service. The repeating ewes were ones who had and hadn't received hormones but all were slightly fatter than average and desirable. This group had the highest incidence of 2nd services. On 2nd service the ram seems to have achieved purpose. Further investigation would have to be undertaken to see if this was an issue with the ram or the condition of the ewes. My feelings are it may be a combination of the 2. From this though I am in favour of defiantly trying to purchase rams well in advance of tupping and also trying to keep sheep at a condition score of 3 in the run up to mating to minimise returning ewes. It could also be the ram needed to improve his technique as he was inexperienced. I think there is also merit in treating with hormones to bring cycling forward if you wish to achieve earlier lambing.

Quite a bit of information for us to pick through for next year and of course it's always interesting to look back and see if this pattern is repeated next time... will keep you posted!

Monday, February 23, 2015

preparing for lambing

well it's been a long time since our last post, where does the time go?

Since our last post we have successfully shown our sheep at various shows, sold some of last years lambs, purchased more ewes and now we're back to lambing time again. This year we have taken a big step in increasing our flock sizes and also starting up a business which sells our knitting yarn and wool products (there will be a separate blog about that!)

So here we are approximately 1 week away from lambing time. This really is the culmination of all the hard work we have put into the flock over the past 12 months; learning from last year and hopefully making improvements.

Our ewes have all been condition scored in the last few weeks and all appear to be coping with pregnancy well, perhaps a little too well in some instances. A few of the ewes are carrying a little too much condition but I'm  hopeful this wont cause any issues as they get closer to the lambing dates. It is mainly our shearlings, those who haven't lambed before who are looking & feeling a little tubby. Obviously we'll watch them carefully, my main worry would be prolapsing. This has only happened to one of our ewes before and it was minor but still not pleasant and something to be avoided where ever possible. The first ewes due to lamb are now in the maternity wing of the yard and looking peaceful on their clean straw bed. Generally I like to bring them in a week before lambing is due to start and let them settle. One of our coloured ewes is slightly more skittish than a typical Ryeland so I especially want her to feel safe and secure in the next few days. Already she seems to have settled into her indoor routine well so I'm hopeful she'll do just fine.

Our lambing kit is at the ready; I like to be prepared for worse case scenarios so keep it well stocked throughout lambing. Nothing worse than not having essentials to hand when it's 2am and there aren't any shops open! It's during the time just before lambing that you can feel a bit helpless; a lot of waiting around and just hoping you've done enough to ensure your ewes are in the best of health prior to them giving birth. This year we've made changes to their energy licks, feeding programme and also the mineral licks we provided during tupping... lets see if it makes a difference! They certainly seem to be producing more milk earlier on this year, all I can hope for is that this translates to better quality milk for the lambs. We will also be using a colostrometer to check the quality of their colostrum after lambing. We probably won't do all the ewes but any we feel might be a little suspect based on history or clinical presentation at the time.

so the ewes are in, the lambing kits are ready, bonding pens are up & limed, plenty of straw too.It's just a waiting game now. Wish us luck & we'll keep you posted on our progress ...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lambing time

All our ewes have now delivered their lambs and on the whole it has been a successful lambing period, with just a few unexpected challenges. In this blog I will review our lambing for 2014, the ups and downs, things that worked well and areas to improve. Every year teaches us something different and it's important to have a review so things can hopefully improve year on year.

This year was the first year our girls had been vaccinated against toxoplasmosis, enzoonotic abortion and Schmallenberg. Although the vaccines were relatively expensive I found it gave me piece of mind in the run up to lambing. This year we will again be vaccinating the ewes against Schmallenberg and any new arrivals into the breeding flock will also have vaccines against the common causes of abortion. We will plan this into their summer health checks after weaning of the lambs.

On the whole the ewes lambed well although we did have a handful who were scanned incorrectly and gave us additional lambs to the ones expected. Although this didn't generally cause problems, it did mean these ewes had been underfed and therefore the lambs were slightly smaller than the ideal. All seem to be catching up but I will certainly be seeking advice from the scanner this season.

The ewes coped remarkably well with the wet and horrible conditions over the winter but despite having mineral and vitamin licks in their fields there are a couple of cases where I and the vet suspect a vitamin or mineral deficiency in the ewes which has manifested in the lambs. Our first indication of this was a ewe lamb who whilst growing well developed a pottery gate and lacked lamb vigour at approximately 4 weeks of age. There were no signs of joint ill so treatment was based on multi vitamin and a selenium/vitamin E injection with a small amount of pain relief. Within a few days a huge improvement was seen. A couple of other cases emerged where lambs lacked general vigour but were not specifically unwell. We decided to inject all of them with the vitamins and minerals and they are now back romping round the paddocks. It may be the incredibly wet conditions leached essential nutrients out of the soil effecting ewe uptake. This area is known for having soil low in selenium and whilst we have never had a problem before we will be drenching the ewes before lambing with a suitable product to over come this in 2015.

Another first for us this year was a ewe who failed to let her milk down for 24hrs after lambing a 6am in the morning.  Her lamb was fed a substitute colostrum for 12hrs and then replacement milk. The ewe was given an injection of oxytocin and pain relief which helped her enormously, allowing the lamb to suckle successfully after 24hrs.

Having used several different rams for the whites and coloureds we are lucky to have produced ewe lambs that can stay in our flock without the worry of inbreeding when they are old enough. Both our white rams have produced some lovely stock although we do have a couple who have some rusty fibres running through their fleeces; this seems to be coming from a particular genetic combination and one which we will work hard to eradicate for next year. The coloured lambs are of exceptional quality and I'm thrilled with them but of course it doesn't matter if they have ginger all over, they can be any colour they please! We will carefully review the resultant offspring of our matings and see what, if any changes need to be made for September. We will be selling one of our stock rams this year to make way for a white shearling but we haven't as yet decided which one.

Today the older lambs are all moving on to fresh grazing, on the way we'll be collecting faecal samples to take to the vets for worm egg counts. We are trying to reduce our reliance on wormers for 2014/15. All our ewes were wormed after lambing however as this is a vulnerable time for them where worm burdens can quickly take hold. Lambs will be weighed, checked over and then released on to their fresh pasture; something they are likely to enjoy. At this age they're keen to try all sorts of food stuffs and are busily picking at grass, hay and creep feed. We are keeping a few of the smaller lambs closer to the house; these include a set of triplets who are having a top up of milk replacer and 2 sets of twins who are also being topped up. As soon as I am happy they are ok on just 2 bottles a day they too can join the rest of the flock.

After many sleepless nights I have to say it's been worth it. The lambs are happy outr and about in the fields and the majority have already been reserved. We will be retaining a few to grow on into 2015 and possibly joining our breeding flock.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A new season is dawning

The rams had a very successful time with the ewes and the majority were covered in the first two weeks with only one needing a repeat service. This means lambing is due to start here on the 3rd March.

Despite the awfully wet weather we have been having both the ewes and rams are in fine fettle. The fields are the wettest I have seen them and the bottom of our main paddocks have been flooded for some weeks now. We did have a surprising amount of grass running into winter but unfortunately it has quickly turned to mud with the lying water. Hay rations were dipped into earlier than would have been ideal but unfortunately everyone needed a top up. Luckily the ram's paddocks are higher up and haven't suffered from the same boggy conditions; they haven't had any extra rations yet.

This year we decided it would be advantageous to have the ewes scanned so we can separate them into groups carrying singles and those carrying twins. We used a delightful scanner, very sympathetic with the sheep and me! The results were good and all but one of our ewes is expecting. The barren ewe is no surprise as she had managed to tip herself up a few weeks before and really did hit the ground with a thud. A shame but we will give her another opportunity next season. As for this lambing she will be put to good use as a buddy for any ewes needing a companion if they need to be separated or to nanny the lambs when they arrive. So the scanning results revealed we are expecting 8 ewes to have twins and 8 ewes to have singles. Obviously we would prefer a greater number of twins but will always be delighted if we get healthy singles.

The ewes have now been separated from the rams who have stayed up at our rented ground a few minutes away from the main holding. The ewes and ewe lambs from 2013 are still currently in one large group. The group will be divided into 2 next weekend; ewes carrying singles & ewe lambs from 2013, the second group will consist of ewes carrying twins. The reason we do this is so we can feed the ewes who are carrying twins more in their last few weeks of pregnancy. The majority of foetal growth occurs in the last 4 weeks with a large increase in energy demands to allow this to happen. The growing foetus also reduces the amount of space available in the rumen of the ewe meaning there is less space for grass and hay; concentrated feeds must be added to their diets. I think this is the moment the Ryeland ewes live for; extra food!

All the ewes look to be in good condition at around a condition score of 3. I will have a hands on check when we pen them to separate. Sometimes their fleece can make them look a little more plump than they actually are. Ideally I would like them to be at a condition score of 3 for lambing; too fat and too thin a ewe can both cause problems and require intervention so we always try to get them as close to perfect weight as possible. Easier said than done with a couple who insist on looking increasingly chubby regardless of the lack of grass!

So forward onto lambing. The ewes will be vaccinated with Heptavac P in the next month and the lambing stables and pens will be organised. The first group of ewes will be brought in a week before lambing is due to start.... fingers crossed for a productive and successful lambing period

Monday, November 11, 2013

The boys have come out from their ewe groups this weekend. I'm very excited at the prospects of some of the pairings we've made and really have my fingers crossed for some lovely lambs. We have vaccinated the ewes against Schmallenberg and hope to avoid the disease which is now well established in England and within our county. It was a difficult decision as the vaccine cost approx. £3.50 per ewe and can seem rather expensive, it's definitely a cost I could live without! Having seen some other farmers and smallholders struggle with the effects of Schmallenberg last year I decided I would worry if I didn't vaccinate the ewes. They all had their vaccine 3 weeks before the tups went in and now all we can do is hope for a successful lambing period in early March.

Montgomery Jack all prepped and ready to meet his ewes


The Rams have been with the ewes for two cycles now and for the most part it's gone very well. Only one shearling ewe required a repeat service, the others all seem to have held at first attempt. The rams obviously turned on some serious charm and wooed the ewes in record time this year. We had the majority of the girls served within 10 days; great for planning our lambing times and resources. Based on the raddle marks we will be lambing for a period of approximately 3 weeks with the bulk of the ewes being in the first 10 days. Must remember to get well stocked up on the coffee for then! As you guys know we have a Coloured Ryeland flock and also a Ryeland flock. They are split at tupping time into small groups each with their respective rams. as per my last blog we have introduced some new bloodlines this year with some beautiful new rams joining our breeding group. The fun of having new rams is pairing the ewes to them, looking at their bloodlines and conformation trying to decide who would be best with who. It's a bit like an introduction agency trying to find the best match.

Malt Kiln Sabre takes a break from romancing the ewes 

This year we had quite a few shearlings (ewes which have only been shorn once approximately 18 months of age) joining the breeding group. It's not common for Ryelands or Coloured Ryelands to be bred from in their first year so normally they are shearlings before they go to the ram and two year olds when they actually lamb themselves. This allows them to be fully developed before having the additional burden of supporting a growing lamb. It's best to put these young ewes with rams who have a bit of experience and vice a versa a young inexperience ram would often be put to more experienced ewes just to help every thing along! Luckily all the rams we've used this year have been proven and are relatively experienced which meant this did not need to influence our decision on pairings.

During the whole of this hormone fuelled party the ewe lambs and ram lambs, which we have retained or bought in, are separated and given their own paddocks out of harms way. The ewe lambs have had a marvellous time mooching on a paddock with a  great variety of herbage which they have explored and munched on well. They are now back with the ewes on a lovely pasture full of green goodies to keep them happy. The ewes will remain with them until lambing when we'll walk them down the road to the yard and stables.

The ram lambs had a rather fantastic holiday with our neighbours who have looked after them wonderfully. Truth be told I think they've been a little spoilt! They are now back with us and enjoying their new paddock and plenty of mix to keep them growing over winter.

We have some visiting ewes who are still with the rams and will be until late December. They seem to have seem to have settled well and made themselves at home. They all used to live here and have been sold but have returned to have a romantic break with our rams.

Over the next few months the ewes will be monitored and will be due for scanning in late December. Then we'll really know how well our pairings have gone!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Nearly time to start again

Well it has been a busy few weeks with shows, sales and purchases galore.

We were lucky enough to go to Burwarton Show this year and help Sue & Any McVicar (Montgomery flock) show one of their sheep. It was a great day and so many Ryelands and Coloured Ryelands were there. We learnt so much and were very grateful for the opportunity to help them.

Following on from this we took some of our sheep to a local show and entered them in "Any other breed classes" as they don't have Ryeland classes. We were delighted to get two third rosettes and had such a fantastic day out. I think both Stephen and I learnt a lot and will be better prepared for our next showing occasion in 2014. We're hoping to do a few shows next year to really get into the swing of things and get the sheep out and about.

We have made some purchases this summer too. It started with a beautifully dark ewe lamb from Janet Shaw (Malt Kiln flock). This was then followed by two lovely Ryeland ewe lambs from Sue & Andy McVicar (Blackwell flock) and a Coloured Ryeland ram lamb out of white parents to be brought on for 2015. We then took ourselves off to the Ludlow Show and Sale and purchased a Coloured Ryeland ewe lamb (Glenbryn flock), 2 x Coloured Shearling ewes (Welsh flock & Lower Hayton flock) and 2 x Ryeland shearling ewes (Mansel flock & Arberth flock). We also decided to increase the bloodlines available to our ewes and purchased a senior ram from Catherton flock. It was a busy but thoroughly enjoyable day.

Glenbryn ewe lamb 

Malt kiln ewe lamb

Catherton Playboy

The next few weeks will see us getting ready for tupping with ewes being separated into Ryelands and Coloured Ryelands, worming feet and vaccinations will also be done. The ewe lambs will not enter the breeding flock this year but will grow on for 2014. We also have two ram lambs who will be growing on over the winter and then will enter the breeding cycle next autumn, these are by Mansel and Montgomery flocks and should hopefully add something quite special when their time arrives... just have to wait a bit boys!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

summer is well underway

Time for a quick monthly update....

 The ewes have all now been dried up and the lambs weaned. All the ewe lambs have left for their new homes and some additional ewe lambs have joined us from Malt Kiln and Blackwell flocks. We have also purchased a ram lamb and a Coloured Shearling ewe from the Montgomery flock. Two other coloured ewes will be coming to us from Brecon. The ewe lambs will over winter with us and join the breeding flock next autumn with the shearling going to the ram for the first time this year. Hopefully the ram lamb will be mature enough to cover a couple of ewes also. Our Coloured ram is related to our new girls so they will be served by a ram in the Montgomery flock. No need to worry though our stock ram will have plenty of girls to keep him occupied as some of our old stock are coming back in the autumn to be tupped. Of course there will also be the Ludlow Show and Sale to attend in August; I'm sure a few ewes will end up being purchased there too!
A malt Kiln ewe lamb we have purchased

one of the Blackwell ewe lambs who has joined us


We attended a sheep skills workshop last week and had a thoroughly enjoyable day. The course was fantastically delivered by Shropshire Farm vets and allowed us to look at maximising lambing rates and reducing worm burdens within the flocks. Now all we need to do is put it all into practice!

We are just about to start training our sheep who we are taking to our local show on the 17th August. Luckily some of ours have been shown before so are very happy with the halters. The lambs on the other hand may take some persuading. Will post some photos in our next update