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 ...