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!

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