Saturday 13 March 2010

Scannings - the results

Hill scannings finally over, so how did they go?

I think it would be fair to say they went better than expected.

The wintry weather arrived in Tarset whilst the tups were still running with the ewes, albeit nearing the end of their stint. The weather continued for many weeks and many were beginning to worry about the results of the scannings.

When ewes find themselves under physical stress they are apt to cast their lambs, abort or as we would call it - keb. However, they are also capable of reabsorbing their lambs, often showing no signs of anything un toward. For all we were saying the worst of the weather had come when the sheep were early in lamb the stress they had found themselves in made one wonder if they would possibly be able to hold onto their lambs.

The scanning results have shown that indeed they did manage to keep a hold of their lambs. The twin numbers are down and the geld (empty) numbers on some farms are up, however both of these figures are mainly insignificant in that there is a slight variation but not a severe difference on past scanning results.

The shepherd out -bye was well chuffed with his results as the geld numbers were well down. The twin count was slightly lower but that is no great hardship. Twins on hill farms take a lot more looking after and better in-bye ground is needed to give them a good start in life. Many hill farms don't have high acreages of good in-bye ground and so if a phenomenal number of twins were to be born it would be a problem as you would be left with too many mid or bottom end lambs to sell in the autumn.

Many of the twin lambs on a hill farm find themselves split. When a single is born dead, or for whatever reason dies, a twin will be lifted off it's mother and set on to the ewe which has lost hers, this ensures two single lambs both well reared with the result of a good strong healthy lamb in the back end.

So basically, there are less twin lambs expected this spring with a handful more ewes getting the year off and running without a lamb. Some of these ewes may not have the privilege of seeing the spring. Any geld (empty) ewes which were to be drafted out of the flock this coming back end may well have found themselves down to the 'pie shop' already. Grass is none existent at the moment and sheep trade is good, what is the point of keeping and feeding a sheep which would be being sold in the autumn anyhow but isn't going to rear a lamb?

May sound harsh but these sheep help pay the feeding costs of those ewes which are carrying lambs. Everywhere at the moment is totally barren. Field ground is so bare you could see a mouse run over it, apparently this isn't just here in this area but further south too.

The hard weather we have experienced for months now is preventing any growth of grass. Frosts practically every morning are knocking back any grass which thinks it might like to grow. Sheep are needing TLC (tender loving care), feed blocks for the singles out on the hill ground which although a lot rougher than fields it is still as dead as a Do Do, usually at this time of the year the hill sheep get nourishment from the moss but with the hard frosty weather the moss is frozen too and so they are not able to graze it.

So the hill singles are receiving supplementary feed in the form of blocks whilst the twins will have been brought into fields (or be waiting to be brought into fields) and they will be receiving sheep cake, a pelleted form of fodder which can come in bags (25kg) or blown into buildings loose. There is a variety of cake available on the market, some start their ewes on 16% protein feed raising them to a higher protein closer to lambing.

A winter like this one shows what an important management tool the pregnancy scanning can be, enabling the farmers and shepherds to work out who needs what, feed wise, as you wouldn't want to stuff a lot of feed into your singles and find the lambs grow too big to come out. If the twins were fed as though they were carrying singles then they may struggle to rear them especially on a year like this when the spring is so slow in thinking about arriving.

Feed costs have been high this winter, feeding starting earlier than usual with sheep needing what they are given, and for all the efforts of the farmers and shepherds there are problems already beginning to show with the odd keb (abortion)and one or two ewes going down with twin lamb disease (Pregnancy Toxeamia). We are getting closer to the lambing starting, lambs will be around by the start of April with the hill ewes coming in in the middle of the month and all efforts are being made to ensure the ewes will be fit enough to lamb down and nurse their lambs. Some warmer weather would be welcomed as that ought to encourage the grass to grow and the sheep will be happier as will those who care for them.