Tuesday 6 December 2011


Funny old word. Raddle. 'Tis a man thing y'know. If you're a sheep that is.

Raddle is applied to the tups brisket. Basically a coloured slop which is spread onto his brisket and surrounding wool.
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Not the best of descriptive shots of raddle on this blue faced leicester tup, but you can get the jist by the fact he looks a 'bloody' mess on his front legs. Not blood though (thankfully) but raddle. I screeched to a halt on the roadside to get these pictures to try to explain where 'tartan wool' comes from, it is not that common on the farms I work on to raddle their tups so I took the opportunity when I came upon this guy.
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Slightly better angle.

The idea of raddling tups is that you can see which ewes they have tupped. Except that is in itself a lie, all you can actually see is which ewes he has jumped upon and attempted to tup, coloured backsides are not a guarantee of lambs in the belly. Just as with humans, not everything conceives first time.
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Having found himself a receptive female he gears himself up (almost looks to me that she is telling him to get on with the job).
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Job completed! There is no doubt in anyones mind that he definitely gave her a 'cuddle'.

So why raddle tups if it doesn't tell you that they are in lamb? It is usually a management tool. The colour of the raddle gets changed during tupping time. Some may change the colour after 17 days, enabling them to tell which tup was used for the first 17 days and which was used for the remaining duration. Others change the colour more regularly, every week or ten days, enabling them to batch sheep at lambing time.

God help a tup whose colour gets covered by a darker colour (odd ones are permissable), that can mean only one thing - he went through the motions but achieved nowt- not a good place to be if you're a tup.

A darker colour? That is generally how the raddling sequence works, light colours to begin with, darker colours following, should a sheep be covered twice (or even thrice) you need a colour darker than the original raddle otherwise it will not show up on the sheeps backside.

I have lambed sheep which were raddled. The first ten days no raddle was applied to the tup, then yellow for ten days, red for ten days and finally blue. The sheep were housed for lambing time in a shed, only being brought into the shed as their particular colour was due to lamb. When there are many sheep to go through a lambing shed this is a very useful management tool, saving them from all being crammed indoors at the offset.

So what exactly is raddle? It's a coloured powder which is then mixed with oil before being slopped onto the tup. It is necessary to re apply the raddle every few days (as it keeps getting wiped off on ewes backsides), so it is always hoped the tup likes sheep cake and will trot up for the bucket whilst more gunk is applied to his brisket. I know of one farmer who saved the soot from his chimney when it was cleaned and mixed that with oil to produce a raddle, only draw back being there isn't another colour darker than black!

Shep hasn't had a great deal of involvement with raddling tups, it often tends to be more of an in-bye habit, although occasionally if wishing to try out a few tup lambs over a 17 day period they have found themselves raddled to enable correct identification of the fathers at lambing time.

Tup harnesses are also used. Straps around the chest and shoulders which hold a crayon in place on the tups brisket, a crayon which can be removed and replaced with a different colour. Some day I'll try and track down someone using harnesses, our hill tups tend not to be hassled with such things.


Dafad said...

Don't think I've ever seen a harness up here.We're just about done.
Glad you like last nights sunset. We're just worried that you're O.K so close to the Scottish border.
Take care up there.

Tarset Shepherd said...

I think everyone is alright up here, horrendous weather but not as bad as some. Daylight will reveal more. Sou'westers and lead in the wellies is the order of the day!

Harreson said...

Thank you for your delightful, clear description. Came across the word "reddle" in Anna Pavord's book "Landskipping". Online dictionaries useless. Not familiar with sheep management as a citydweller here in Vancouver, BC, Canada! Great to learn something new, always. Very clever system!