Ensure ewes are in good body condition when off to the ram
Whether it is the higher flock replacement cost or perhaps the prospect of good lamb prices again next year, sheep farmers seem to be more focused on flock mating management this year.
More on this later, but the first question that each sheep farmer should ask is "what is the most appropriate lambing date for my situation?" May and June lamb prices over the past few years are still insufficient to cover high concentrate feeding costs. This means that you should aim, instead, to have your lambing date coinciding with spring grass growth.
It does not make sense to lamb in early February and then to run out of grass resulting in costly meal feeding and still only secure July lamb prices.
There is possibly a place for farmers with a low sheep stocking rate to lamb early, but always consider the impact of this decision on grass supplies and the impact it may have on other follow-on grazing stock. It is also worth remembering that (in the absence of sponging) an earlier lambing date is generally associated with a longer lambing spread.
I had several phone calls last January about low litter sizes and high numbers of barren ewes at scanning. Some of these cases, especially with younger ewes and ewe lambs, may have been due to toxoplasmosis and the low availability of the vaccine last year but I am convinced that a good number were due to ewes being in poor condition at mating.
Ewes should be have good body conditioning going to the ram, with a condition score of 3.5-4.0. Ewes in poor condition should be given preferential feeding and those that do not recover over an eight to 12 week period should be culled. Ewes in poor condition will respond to flushing (good grass for 3-4 weeks pre-mating and during mating) by having an increased ovulation rate and litter size.
However, in my experience, particularly with mating from mid-October on, ewes in poor body condition (while responding to flushing) are unlikely to gain sufficient weight coming into the winter and are most likely to be in poor condition at lambing time. Looking back over the past years, the one group of sheep that I find to be neglected most are hogget ewes (two teeth) that have been retained as replacements but not mated in their first year.
They are often fed forage only during the winter months, put well away from the yard on one of the poorest fields for the summer, treated with a long acting pour-on for fly control and left to their own devices until August, when they are joined with the flock.