Mother Nature decides when a sheep is matured enough to reproduce not the sheep themselves.
Immature sheep are known as hoggs, this has already been discussed in past blogs. This years hoggs were born in April/May so by tup time they are only approx 6 months old and would lamb down at about a year old if caught by the tup. Hill hoggs are slower maturing but the strongest ones are capable of coming a raid by second time over. If they ended up in lamb they would need special care and attention, should they be left out on the hill unnoticed their condition will most probably drop dramatically and they could well lamb down without any milk or end up dragging themselves down trying to rear a lamb.
As the hoggs are the future of the ewe flock the idea is to have them mature and grow before going to the tup at 18 months of age, give them a good start in life.
Years back hill farms didn't always have much in - bye ground with them and so hoggs couldn't be held off from the ewes and kept safe from the tups. This problem was overcome by breeking. Breeking involves sewing a square of cloth over the tail and so preventing the tup accessing the rear end of the hogg - ovine chastity belts!
Breeks were often off cuts from the woollen mills although I have always used unbleached calico, which when removed after tup time can be washed and stored for the next time. The packing needle from shearing time is used alongside string and the material is sown onto the wool with a running stitch around two sides and the top, there is one long, knotted stitch put through the wool on the tail.
I hadn't come across anyone who breeked hoggs for a few years but was asked to do some just a week or two back, over the border in Scotland, unfortunately I didn't have the time to breek 350 hoggs for the guy but at least I know some out there do still breek.
The majority now run their hoggs off into the fields, often for most of the winter, putting them on to cake to encourage them to grow on better. Others pay for keep known as wintering on other farms on kinder lying ground and the hoggs leave the farm for a few months and return bouncing and bloomed of the skins with having been on better going.
To confuse you further............... In-bye hoggs do often get the chance of the tup, on purpose. These are far stronger sheep and would be enormous if left geld to run through for another year due to the ground they live on. So if you hear of someone lambing hoggs it isn't unusual but it would be highly unusual in sheep running on hill ground.
Tup hoggs are also used both on the hills and in-bye, they don't get many sheep - 30 is often deemed sufficient for a tup hogg. Some are only put out for a few days. It gives the shepherd an idea how they breed - what sort of offspring they are going to leave and it also gives the young lads an idea of what life is all about, they'll go to the ewes as shearlings and hopefully be able to do the job without fumbling about.