Tuesday 5 September 2017

Flushing the ewes

When we started to keep sheep we immediately became acutely concerned about the condition of our grass. Good grazing is a prerequisite for well conditioned sheep. Meeting their grazing needs can be quite a challenge if you have limited grazing. We have just about three acres available for grazing across three (at a stretch, four) stock fenced areas to play with. 

An additional problem with limited grazing is the increased likelihood of worm problems which need to be monitored and appropriate preventative interventions applied. On top of this our dry sandy soil means that the quality of the grass is not so lush perhaps as wetter parts of the country. There was a bit of concern earlier in the summer following a very dry spring when the grass in our main grazing field did not put on as good a growth as usual and was grazed down sooner than expected. A further issue is that our ram, Davy, along with his companion wether (a castrated ram), needs to be kept in a separate area for part of the year which takes up additional grazing  space.

On the other hand we don't have problems with waterlogged fields or poaching which can result in miserable conditions for sheep and which can have a serious impact on pasture quality. As with any other sheep keeper, whatever the size of their flock, we have to be aware of overall stock levels. 

Our flock of (currently) 11 sheep in total are carefully rotated around the available grazing during the year in a more or less planned way. The aim is to give time for pastures to recover and provide a fresh re-growth of grass to use later. For example, I keep one field free over autumn and winter which I use as a turn out field in the spring for the ewes and new born lambs to get a good start with the most nutritious grass (and consequently milk quality) which is particularly important for young lambs.

Today I moved all the ewes and this year's lambs to new grass. I had been holding this move off despite the fact that I had begun to provide some hay because their current pasture had been grazed down. The purpose of this move is primarily to 'flush' the ewes ready for tupping in October when the ram will join them. The rather wetter second half of the summer has resulted in some good re-growth and, even if I say so myself, some appetising looking grass. As soon as the field gate was opened the sheep made a determined dash for their new paradise and spent the rest of the afternoon with their heads down. 

The idea behind flushing is that by providing good quality grazing or supplementary feeding prior to tupping it not only brings ewes back up to condition, particularly those still a bit on the slim side as the summer grazing runs thin, but also increases ovulation and hence the greater likelihood of producing twins. I am mindful of the fact that the breeding ewes tupped last year each only produced a single lamb and that this was without having taken any particular pre-natal measures. So it will be interesting to see what happens next spring.

Some of the ewes before being
moved to fresh grazing
Our ram Davy waiting patiently
for October

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