FROM the experienced farm team at Hexham-based Scott Mitchell & Associates, vet Lee-Anne Oliver took time out to share her advice on the importance of planning for the livestock life cycle which faces sheep farmers across the land.

It’s tupping time again, meaning the tups will soon be rampaging around the fields with their ewes doing what they do best!

There are some inevitable consequences to this – firstly, every young child driving around the country asks their parents why the sheep have different coloured bottoms and a difficult conversation ensues…and secondly, what goes in must come out – in five months’ time it will be lambing time again!

The preparation of the ewe and tup for tupping is crucial, as the eggs within the ewe and sperm within the tup, both of which will eventually meet to form a conceptus, are developing and maturing at this very moment.

The ewes and tups don’t just need our care during tupping time; six weeks before they are expected to conceive, we need to ensure both the ewes and tups are sound and in the correct body condition.

There is growing evidence that the nutrition and stress that a ewe experiences from conception and during pregnancy can influence the performance of the resulting offspring, a process referred to as foetal programming.

Here are a few examples of foetal programming:

l The immune system of the lamb develops almost entirely while it is in the uterus of its mother (in utero) and relatively very little after birth. It is known that the ewe’s trace element and protein status during pregnancy affects the ability of the newborn lamb’s gut to absorb antibodies from the colostrum.

l Another example is muscle development. Muscles are made up of multiple fibres; lambs are born with all the muscle fibres they need for life and these muscle fibres just get bigger, rather than increasing in number, as the lambs grow. Ewe nutrition in early pregnancy affects the number of muscle fibres they are born with and, in turn, possibly their subsequent performance.

l If we specifically consider lambs that are likely to be intended as breeding replacements, all the eggs that a ewe is likely to use in her lifetime, and all the cells that will produce sperm within a tup’s testicles, are produced when the lamb is still in utero. Once the lamb is born, these eggs and sperm cannot be increased. Malnutrition in pregnancy will therefore affect the future reproductive ability of the unborn lamb.

There is an increasing evidence base on how ewes should be fed and managed during pregnancy. To achieve the very best from next year’s lambs, careful management should be implemented now.

Ensuring ewes receive the correct trace element supplementation, neither too much nor too little, alongside ensuring they are at target body condition score, is crucial – it is very difficult to change body condition during pregnancy without decrementing the health of the unborn lamb.

Further information regarding ewe nutrition can be found in the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) publication ‘Feeding the Ewe’, available to download from the AHDB website.