Sunday, 19 December 2010

Tup time and second time over

The tups in Tarset are now into second time over. As explained last year ewes have an oestrus cycle of 17 days. So a tup is released to the ewes on the first day of tup time and it is hoped that after 17 days those ewes will have all come on 'heat' and been tupped and hopefully held (remained fertilised).

The next 17 days is generally known as second time over. For fear some ewes didn't hold to the tup they get the chance again and usually to a different tup.

It is not unheard of for ewes to come back to the tup on the 18th/19th days, these being the ewes which were on heat when the tups first went out and for some of them it was probably wearing off, or maybe the tup was struggling to settle down to the task in hand. For whatever the reason there is no major concerns when ewes come a tupping right at the offset of second time over, however, should this trend continue for further days it is a great concern, a sign that the tup was not doing his job right, was not fertilising the ewes.

It is for this reason that tups are changed for second time over, ideally fresh tups are used but sometimes tups just find themselves changed around to run with a different batch of ewes. Shepherds keep an eye on any proceedings hoping that they don't find ewes queuing up for their second chance of being fertilised. If the tups are ratching (hunting) around looking for a willing female and finding no joy then that is great news for the shepherd, the ewes are already fertilised and don't require the services of the male sheep anymore. Should the results be different and the tup finds himself with a regular harem then there is no doubt the first tup out with the ewes did not do his job, hugely frustrating as the lambing season will drag on and the tup (which may well be one you thought very highly of) will have to go down the road, to the pie shop so to speak.

There were many this tup time sharing concerns that their ewes would be not be tupped first time over due to the poor weather conditions. There should have been little reason why the sheep didn't get tupped, if your ewes are fit and your tups too then nature will take its course. Sheep have an inbuilt desire to pass their genes on to the next generation and so long as their own survival is not in jeopardy that is what they will do.

It is possible that on some of the very worst days when snow was blizzarding the tups may have found it more difficult to perform, or they may well have suffered an injury (which would be spotted by the shepherd and rectified as soon as possible) but on a whole the males and females ought to have been doing what they were meant to be doing and fertilisation ought to have occurred.

Shepherds were finding that they weren't seeing the signs first time over. Usually the sheep are fairly well spread out and the tup will be wandering around trying to find a receptive ewe, the ewes also will be hunting the tups out. The shepherd would gather his sheep up every day and hopefully have the opportunity of seeing a tup work (tup a ewe). However due to the amount of snow lying sheep were held tight within a small area until the snow began to soften and they could spread themselves out further and when the shepherd arrived on the scene these sheep which were already bunched up came forward looking for feed, a totally different scenario to the one which many were used to experiencing.

Due to the fact that the sheep were bunched up all the time the tups didn't (and actually couldn't) go a wandering, they were confined to a small area just waiting for a ewe to come onto heat and ask to be tupped, the chances of the shepherd seeing any 'action' was fairly slim. As already said, upon his arrival the sheep were looking for feed so again he wasn't going to see much action. If ewes are not satisfied with the tup and his services they will follow him around, hassle him and let it be known that they would like something 'better', again this wasn't being seen due to the circumstances at tup time.

Tups have been changed in Tarset and second time over is well underway. It would appear that those concerns held by some could well have been unfounded, there are not many ewes coming back to the tups which is great news. It seems that the ewe flocks in Tarset are indeed going to be in lamb.
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An idle tup seen above - good news for the shepherds that the ewes no longer require his services.

Tups will run with the ewes until the turn of the year, often pulled off the ewes around about the 5th January. Tups are pulled off the ewes because we all want to know that lambing time is drawing to a close, if they are left running with the ewes there may well be ewes lambing well into June. Six weeks of running with the tups ought to be enough, it's definitely enough at lambing time! Anything which hasn't been tupped in that time probably wasn't fit enough or had an underlying problem and would be better off geld anyhow, unless that is there was a problem with the tup and his fertility in which case tups may be left out longer as the lambing will be starting later anyhow.

The challenge to the ewes now is to get through the winter and remain in lamb. Physical stress may well cause them to reabsorb their lambs or abort (keb). Physical stress is often caused by difficult weather conditions which affect their natural grazing and find them burning their energy reserves. Fortunately sheep went into this winter in good physical fettle and we'll just have to hope they don't find themselves hammered by the elements and put under stress once the foetus begins to grow inside them.


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