Making Lambs: Tips for Tupping

On Sunday 11 May, we reintroduced Spidey the ram to his 10 girls with the expectation that hot lovin’ would ensue. The official farming term for the hot lovin’ process as it applies to sheep is ‘tupping’.

Spidey and Friend

Spidey and Friend

This is Spidey’s third tupping season. The benchmark for his performance was set in 2012, when he leapt over a fence to get to his ladies and had them all well and truly seen to within five minutes.

These days, he takes his time. He romances the girls. He croons Barry White tunes in their ears.

Even so, they weren’t exactly eager this year and demonstrated their lack of interest by wandering away every time Spidey approached them.

It took him a couple of days to win them all over.

If you’re new to lifestyle block farming and would appreciate some tupping tips, here are some hard-earned pieces of wisdom we’ve gathered over the last three years.

1. Let circumstances dictate the timing

May is late for tupping. On some farms it takes place as early as February but we hold off because a later lambing better suits our conditions.

We get our worst weather of the year in September.  In 2012, we lost 40% of our lambs through a combination of inexperience and appalling weather.

Given that the average gestation time for sheep is 147 days, and assuming Spidey did his job properly, this year’s lambing should start around 4 October. By then the weather has normally settled down, it’s warmer and the grass has started growing for the ewes.

Less stressful conditions mean the lambs grow rapidly and soon catch up with those born earlier.

Muntanui Lamb

Muntanui Lamb

2. If you’re inexperienced, plan ahead

Some people let their rams run with the ewes all year round. Friends of ours farm this way, saying it spreads lambing out over a longer period and therefore lessens the risk of losing them all in a single cold snap.

Because we’re still relatively inexperienced, we like to know exactly when lambing will start. Then we can prepare.

3. Flush the ewes for twins

Flushing the ewes involves giving them the best possible feed for a few weeks before tupping. This brings them into peak condition and improves their chances of having twins.

4. Accessories not necessary

On big farms, they strap a harness known as a ‘raddle’ onto the rams before releasing them. The raddle contains a pouch to house a large, greasy crayon. When the ram mounts each ewe, he marks her back with the crayon.

In this way, the farmer knows how many ewes have been serviced. Different coloured crayons can be used for different rams, so their efforts are colour-coded.

We bought a raddle and couple of crayons in our first year but the prospect of subduing Spidey and then getting the kit on him was too awful to contemplate.

It’s still languishing in our shed somewhere, so if anyone wants it, get in touch!

5. Keep wethers away

All sheep need company, so when we separate Spidey from the girls every February, we leave him a wether (castrated ram) or two for company.

Wethers might not have all the necessary equipment but they still have the urge, so keep them away when the ram’s let in with ewes.

If not, they’ll pester the girls, fight with the ram and generally be a nuisance.

6. Looking ahead

With another tupping season over, our sheep have regained their usual serenity.  We’ll supplement their feed over winter with a few sheep nuts and oats, and watch the girls gradually expand between now and early October. Then, of course, the fun really begins.