Farmers that plan ahead rarely encounter problems and when issues do arise, they are normally easy to rectify.

With weaning, clipping and dipping out of the way, the programme farmers will be starting to plan ahead for grazing in autumn and the upcoming breeding season.

While every farm has different circumstances and priorities, the principles will fundamentally be the same.

Outlined are five tasks that will be carried out over the next month, setting the programme farms up for late season grazing and the autumn breeding period.

1. Selecting and weighing replacement ewe lambs

Most farmers operating March and April lambing flocks will have weaned lambs in recent weeks.

Weaning generally coincides with tasks like dipping, which means lambs are now in a short withdrawal period.

Ideally, weigh all ewe lambs now. The heaviest lambs at weaning time on a grass-based system will reflect two things.

Firstly, ewes with high levels of milking ability will wean heavier lambs. Secondly, lambs with better genetics for traits like growth will be heavier.

Ewe lambs that are suitable flock replacements should now be selected using info such weaning weights, as well as other physical factors such as feet, legs and being a twin.

If these animals are to be successfully bred and lambed down as year old animals, then liveweight at mating time is crucial.

The heavier ewe lambs are going to the ram the better, as animals can cope with pregnancy and lactation post-lambing.

Record the weight of the ewe lambs drafted as potential replacements now. Give these animals priority grazing and weigh again at the end of August.


If the target is to have ewe lambs at a minimum breeding weight of 50kg by 1 November, lambs should weigh at least 35kg by the end of July.

Lambs with lowland breeding on good grass should be gaining 1.5kg to 2kg every week during late summer, slipping back to 1.5kg/week in September and October.

Therefore, ewe lambs weighing 35kg in late July should weigh 42kg to 44kg by the end of August, keeping them on track to reach the target breeding weight by 1 November.

If weight recording shows lambs are unlikely to reach their target breeding weight, is there a worm burden to address or are animals lacking in trace elements?

If necessary, drenching animals and offering a small level of concentrate during autumn will increase weight gain and improve the prospect of hitting the target breeding weight.

2. Giving the ram a pre-breeding check in time

All rams to be used this autumn should have pre-breeding checks carried out around six to eight weeks before they go out to ewes.

For a mid-March lambing flock, breeding starts in mid-October. Therefore, rams should be checked around mid-August.

Do not leave this job until the ram is going on the trailer and out to ewes. The later rams are checked, then the fewer remedial options will be available if there is a problem.

It can take six weeks for a ram’s semen production to recover following a physical problem or infection. This is why physically checking rams well in advance of breeding is important.

What to check?

When checking rams for physical soundness, focus on the five Ts. These are:

  • Teeth – check that teeth line up with the upper jaw. Overshot teeth are a problem.
  • Tone – check the animal’s body condition and slowly build flesh in time for breeding.
  • Toes – check the feet for signs of dermatitis and trim if overgrown.
  • Testicles – check both testicles are firm and free of lumps and warts. Check the penis also.
  • Temperature – check the ram’s body temperature is between 38°C and 39.5°C. Any higher and the animal likely has some form of infection.
  • 3. Body condition score ewes

    Go through ewes regularly to monitor body condition score (BCS). Ewes that are thin (below BCS 3) should be run as a separate grazing group on better grass to gain condition.

    Moving from BCS 2 to BCS 3 is roughly the equivalent of gaining 10% of a mature ewe’s liveweight. If the average ewe in the flock weighs 70kg, one BCS is a gain of 7kg and vice versa.

    This weight gain, or loss, will take anywhere from six to 10 weeks depending on grass quality and availability, stage of year, health status etc.

    Ewes condition scored over the next fortnight will have BCS corrected in time for breeding in mid-October.

    4. Building grass covers and priority grazing

    Prioritise grazing for replacement and finishing lambs to drive weight gain. As silage aftermath comes back into the grazing platform, give lambs first preference.

    Getting as many lambs sold before September will reduce grazing pressure, allowing grass covers to build for autumn.

    As the season progresses, complete a store lamb budget. This will determine if later-born or light animals are better sold through the live ring, freeing up grass for breeding ewes.

    Use the budget to determine if meal feeding will give an economic response to get lambs finished or to a heavier weight for sale.

    If lamb prices hold up at levels similar to last year, there is a return from a short period of meal feeding.

    5. Making better use of parasite treatments

    Anthelmintic resistance continues to increase on sheep farms, so a change in dosing strategy is required.

    There is no point continuing with the status quo of blanket treating sheep for worms and fluke if the majority of the flock is healthy.

    This is just a waste of money and increases wormer resistance, thereby limiting the efficacy of treatments in the future.

    Faecal egg counting is a simple way to check if treatments are necessary, as it highlights the level of worm burden present.

    When combined with regular handling to monitor body condition, it is an even more effective way to determine when parasite control is required.

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