“Correct pre-tupping management of both ewes and rams is vital to ensure a successful tupping” advises James Brinicombe, R & D Director at the Denis Brinicombe Group.
At an exceptionally critical period in the sheep calendar, there are many issues relating to good flock management and husbandry that should be adhered to. Once physical assessments such as lameness issues and disease and breeding soundness checks have been taken care of, nutrition is the next key thing to consider.
Body condition scoring should be done at least 8 weeks before tupping to enable any amendments to be made to thin or over-fat animals. Ideally body condition scores of 3.0-3.5 for lowland ewes and 2.5-3.0 for hill ewes should be aimed for. It is also essential that the condition of the ram is not ignored. They are as equally important as the ewes and are often overlooked until it is too late to have a positive influence on their working performance. A body condition score of 3.5-4.0 is ideal.
Flushing the ewes prior to mating is standard practice and both ewes and rams should begin a rising plane of nutrition 4-6 weeks before tupping commences. The requirement for energy doubles at tupping so providing a sufficient amount in the diet is crucial as energy is one of the main drivers of reproduction.
“Not enough energy can lead to impaired ovulation and conception rates” warns Mr Brinicombe. Cobalt and vitamin B12 have a very important part to play here, as these nutrients are closely involved with feed conversion and energy metabolism so it is advisable to supplement the diet with these to increase the energy available.
Supplementing breeding animals with essential trace elements, vitamins and minerals in the run up to lambing can have a marked improvement in first time conceptions rates, lambing percentage and general overall health. Deficiencies of selenium and zinc in rams have been shown to have a direct link with poor fertilisation rates. Selenium is a critical component of the spermatozoa tail, and a lack of both selenium and/or zinc will impair on the motility of the sperm. Insufficient selenium in the diet of the ewes reduces egg production and can be the cause of embryonic death at implantation.
Low levels of phosphorus are often thought of when looking into fertility problems and over the years may have been supplemented perhaps without considering the other possibilities. Phosphorus does have a role to play, but manganese, iodine and copper are also key to ensuring that the ewe is nutritionally placed to conceive and maintain pregnancy. Deficiencies can often be sub-clinical and not show any evidence other than the flock exhibiting below par fertility which has significant financial consequences.
“To ensure that breeding stock have been nutritionally prepared in the best way possible, supplement rams appropriately from eight weeks before tupping and dependant on the application, ewes between three and six weeks before tupping. This will complement the improvement in diet and prime the ewes and rams for success” concludes Mr Brinicombe.
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