Rawlinshaw Farm|Zwartble and Blue Texel Sheep|DIY Livery
Rawlinshaw Farm, Austwick, 
In the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park

Tupping Time

We all love seeing those wonderful scenes of lambs in spring time, frolicking in the fields. But there is a lot of organisation and management that starts many months before. Find out what is involved in preparing the ewes and rams for breeding and follow through our girls pregnancy up to the time when they give birth.
Prior to Tupping
There is a lot of preparation involved in getting the ewes fit and ready to breed. The farmer strives to have healthy fit ewes as this improves their fertility and the number and health of the lambs. We want the ewes to be a good weight and fit but not too fat! So in the weeks after we wean their lambs, we firstly put them on poorer pasture so help them stop producing milk. Then on the run up to breeding time, we move them to a pasture with better grass. This improved plane of nutrition helps the ewes gain some weight, recover from feeding those hungry lambs and helps them become more fertile and be ready for breeding.
Several weeks prior to tupping, we treat them for various parasites such a “Fluke” and worms, as well as skin mites.
We also have to prepare the rams. These boys do have quite an easy life! These boys work for just a couple of weeks a year, the rest of the year they just eat! On the run up to tupping time, again we improve the diet of the tups. This helps them with their fertility and sperm production. Did you know that the width of a rams scrotum gets significantly bigger when this time of year approaches and his fertility can even be judged on the measurement of his scrotum!
Prior to tupping, we clip around the ewes tails. Locally we call this "Dagging Out". We clip off any dirty hair which help prevent the ram picking up infections when they mate and does make things easier for the ram to perform his job!
  1. sheep, ewes, blue texel
    Ewes initially on poorer grazing
  2. ewes, ram, blue texel
    Ewes fit and healthy, ready for the ram
  3. Prior to "Dagging"
    Prior to "Dagging"
  4. All neat and tidy
    All neat and tidy
Teaser Time
Did you know that ewes can be synchronised to start their reproductive cycle and come into season (oestrus) at the same time? This is called “The Ram Effect”.
We use a “Teaser” ram – he teases the sheep to bring them into season. Well really he mates with the ewes but as he is vasectomised, he doesn’t make them pregnant.
The "ram effect" is when non-cycling (anestrus) ewes are stimulated to ovulate by the sudden introduction of a ram or "teaser" ram. Rams produce a chemical substance called a pheromone, the smell of which stimulates the onset of oestrus.
For this to be effective, all rams (including those of the neighbours), need to be kept at least 1km from the ewes for at least one month before the start of breeding.
The sudden introduction of rams or teasers (vasectomised rams) induce the ewes to start cycling. 
The teasers is introduced to ewes 14 days before mating and most ewes will come on heat 17 or 25 days later. So 14 days later Wallace is taken away from his girlfriends and the fertile rams are introduced.
The major benefit of successfully using the ram effect is to achieve a high proportion of ewes in lamb over a short period of time and a more compact lambing.
This is very important for us as Sam takes two weeks off from her day job at easter to lamb our flock. Most flocks lamb over 6-8weeks and the ewes have had chance to get pregnant over several cycles. Our flock get one cycle only due to work commitments and so the teaser effect is very important to us!
  1. teaser ram
    Wallace, our teaser with two adoring girlfriends
  2. ewes, breeding, teaser ram
    Baa Baa showing signs of being in season
Who breeds with Who?
IOne ram is able to breed with 35 to 50 ewes normally. However when oestrus has been synchronized, more ram power is needed as more of the ewes need mating at the same time, so we need 1 ram for every 5 to 10 ewes. This is great for us at Rawlinshaw, as we get so attached to our rams, that we don't sell them often and have plenty "ram power" on the farm. The logistics of this though can be tricky!
Sorting out which ewes can breed with which tup to prevent inbreeding gets harder each year as you can see by our method of organisation - each piece of paper is an individual sheep and we know who her parents, grandparents and even greatgrand parents are!
On day 14, the ewes are split up into groups and their partner introduced. This year we have 6 rams working.

Taking Whizz and his girls to Meldings the traditional way!

Romance is in the air!
Did you know sheep can actually be quite romantic!

A ewe in heat (oestrus) will generally seek out the ram. She will sniff and chase after him and the two will stay with each other for several days. The ram responds to her urination by by sniffing, extending his front leg at her, and curling his lip. Curling the lip is called the "flehmen response."
This behaviour facilitates the transfer of pheromones and other scents into a sense organ located above the roof of the mouth and provides chemical clues which animals use in a variety of ways such as telling if the ewe is ready to breed.

If the female is receptive, she will stand for mating. 
So that we know when a ewe has been mated, we place a coloured liquid underneath the ewe or place a harness on the tup which hold a coloured crayon. We change the colour at certain intervals so we know who has been mated when. This explains why you see sheep with different coloured bottoms all over Yorkshire!
  1. mark, ram
    Applying the colour
  2. Flehmen in lambs smelling something funny
    Flehmen in lambs smelling something funny
  3. Other species also do this odd behaviour
    Other species also do this odd behaviour
  4. Orange mark
    Orange mark
  5. flehmen, ram
    Flehmen response
  6. Painted Bottoms
    Painted Bottoms
  7. Even our horses do it
    Even our horses do it
  8. ewes, pregnant
    Ewes on their way to top field.
  9. ewes returning to Brunton
    ewes returning to Brunton
  10. Painted bottoms...means pregnant??
    Painted bottoms...means pregnant??
  11. ewes, sheep
    Our shadow girls
So here we are - two weeks gone and it's time the tups came away from the ewes. Most farmers will leave their rams with the ewes to catch at least two, if not three cycles to improve the conception rate. We, however, need the ewes to lamb over a very short period and so only allow them one cycle. We then remove the rams - their job for the year is done!  
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