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