Tuesday 15 March 2011

pregnancy scanning - how did it go?

The scanning season is over for another year. Shep assisted at the first scanning at the end of January but the scanners themselves had been on the roads for weeks, battling through the bad weather to get to farms and scan sheep when many in Tarset had only just put their tups out.

It all depends when your tups are put to the ewes as to when your ewe flock will be scanned http://blog.tarset.co.uk/2010/02/pregnancy-scanning-of-sheep.html The hill flocks are the last to be scanned as they are the latest to lamb.

Shep has attended a number of scannings, some just to assist on the actual day, others to gather beforehand, help at the scanning and the ensuing days. There has been some good crack (conversation) and banter as many hands are on deck to keep sheep forward so fresh faces and fresh stories come to the fore.
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Later in the season foggy days caused problems for gathering, but sheep were found and were gathered.
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Fortunately the burns (streams) were never up (flooded) so bringing sheep across water was never an issue unlike other years.
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Thousands of sheep over the weeks were brought towards home and into the pens ready to be scanned. Shepherds were relieved to find them footy (lively), especially after the poor weather earlier in the winter.
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Whatever the set up on the day, be it indoors, or outdoors, with the scan man in a tent or livestock trailer such as here, all ran smoothly on the day. All systems employed worked well. Plenty of staff and dogs on hand to keep sheep running forward and the job was easily done.

I asked one scanning man what was the most sheep he'd scanned in a day - 6,000+ was the answer!! That was in an 8 hour day! It did happen whilst scanning in New Zealand, the kiwis have good set ups and far more sheep than you'd find in this country. We have flocks, they have mobs! Where we have hundreds on a farm they quite literally have thousands. The scan man went on to say whilst spending 6 weeks in New Zealand he scanned an average of 3,750 sheep per day - wow! He also said it was far easier over there, the sheep are far more docile, there are thousands and thousands on each farm, good handling facilities and you only have to look and see whether or not they are in lamb, whereas in this country the farmers want to know how many lambs the ewes are carrying and so it takes longer to read the results. It was all very interesting tho'!
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There are few times in the year when all the sheep on a farm are to be found in the pens on the same day. These in this photo have all been scanned, the twin and geld marks are on their wool and they are waiting to run up the shedder and have the twins shed off to be kept in the in-bye fields. Many took the opportunity when the sheep were in to dose, innoculate, treat for lice or whatever task was necessary at the time before realising the sheep back to the hill.
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Ewes carrying singles found themselves heading back to their hill ground
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They'll remain out there until lambing time, some will be brought closer to home to be lambed and others will be lambed on the hill.
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Whatever the farm, all sheep were only too pleased to be returned to their home ground and to be left in peace to graze their patch and live their lives away from the hustle and bustle of the pens. Those twin bearing ewes kept in will find themselves receiving sheep cake (supplementary feeding) to ensure their lambs are strong and they themselves are fit enough to rear two lambs. It will take them a while to settle down to being held in an enclosure and for those who have never had feeding before it may take them a while before they consider eating this strange stuff that comes out of a bag (in fact odd ones never do get around to eating the stuff).

I learnt some fascinating facts whilst the scannings were on. Apparently scanning was a British idea. Why oughtn't it be? Well many of the sheep innovations seem to come from either New Zealand or Australia, but not sheep scanning! It came from Edinburgh in Scotland.

Thirty years ago some obsolete NHS (health service) ultra sound scanners were tried out on sheep. It was deemed necessary to sit the sheep on its backside and shave the wool off its lower tummy to allow the probe to be used. After a year or two it was realised that this could easily be done in the standing position and the wool did not need to be removed as the skin in the lisk (groin) gave natural access to the uterus lying inside.

The first scanning probes did not last very long, after having scanned about 500 sheep they were being held together with tape, I suppose they didn't need to be so robust when used under hospital conditions.

The company which produces all the scanning equipment today is still the same company, the same company which supplies our hospitals, the only difference being they have produced a far sturdier model a design which will cope with the hattering it receives from dealing with livestock.

I also learnt that there appears to be very few younger people on scanning. No disrespect to those who are scanning, but the time will come when younger blood will be needed. The drawback has been that those scanning today are well established, many who learnt the trade from the offset. They are experienced, rarely if ever make a mistake and they are also fast. They started off in the job when expectations were low and they learnt as they went along. Anyone wishing to start up now has a lot of catching up to do, it will take a good while to be as good as those going around and farmers now expect their scanning results to be correct, they don't want mistakes, they don't want it to take all day.

Having said that I learnt of one young person who has spent many thousands of pounds and bought himself a scanning machine. He has then asked friends and relations if he could scan their sheep, which he has done slowly and meticulously, even pushing them into the crate himself. He has put a tiny mark on them to signify what he thought they were carrying lamb wise and then he has been present when the 'official' scanning person arrived to scan. He has watched, listened and learnt. Apparently he had done a fairly decent job on those which he had practiced on. There is hope that some young blood may well be going to join the ranks.

So? How did the scannings go? Well all those responsible for sheep flocks were relieved at the end of the day. Those with earlier lambings had had very high percentages and as the weeks went on the lamb numbers dropped.

The hill scannings were better than expected although there will be less lambs on the ground than last year, however there were not too many geld sheep, the lower percentages were due to less twins being present in the sheep. The hill men don't mind that unduly. One is far easier to rear than two, in general they were all relieved that most of their sheep were in lamb. Their nightmares of the bad weather causing their flocks not to be in lamb were unfounded and they can sleep well at nights now. Until that is, lambing time arrives!


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