Tup fertility and serving ability were among the topics discussed at the recent Clyde monitor farm meeting, hosted by Andrew Baillie at Carstairs Mains in South Lanarkshire.
On his 650 acre (263 ha) unit, one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland, Mr Baillie currently runs approximately 230 ewes. The majority are pedigrees – 100 Beltex and 50 Texels. Both pedigree flocks are performance recorded.
Earlier this month Mr Baillie had sold eight shearling tups from his “Callacrag” Beltex flock, at Carlisle, to average £1,000.
At the meeting, vet Neil Laing of The Clyde Vet Group explained crucial points for sheep farmers to consider when either preparing their tups for the mating season, or purchasing new ones.
Mr Laing said ideally a tup will cover a lot of ewes in a short space of time, so tups need to be fertile, eager and mobile.
Strongly recommending an annual “tup MOT”, Mr Laing reminded the community group that often a number of tups are turned in with a flock of ewes, which can mask the inactivity or infertility of individual tups.
“It’s vital that you semen test tups before use, particularly if recently purchased at a sale before which they may have been overfed. You need your tups fit not fat with a body condition score of 3 to 3.5. The fatter they are, the higher the risk of the testosterone hormone being concentrated in the tup’s fat, rather than his blood.
“Many older stock rams become infertile due to unseen illness, so older rams should also be tested prior to use.
“If you don’t semen test and the tup is infertile, the first indication will be ewes returning to service. In what is intended to be a money making venture, this is too late!”
Andrew Baillie showed the group a team of 45, chicory-grazed tups, Beltexes, Texels and some cross-breds (Beltex cross Texel and Millennium Bleus (Beltex cross Bleu du Maine) destined for sale in the near future. Mr Laing had given these tups pre-sale semen tests and physical examinations a few days prior to the meeting and he used two to demonstrate the checks sheep farmers should make.
“Libido, the desire to tup, is important,” stated Mr Laing. “Colour and smell give an indication of libido. A tup should have dark, purplish colouring at the top of the inside of his hind legs and a strong ‘tuppy’ smell, the stronger the better, from his underside and crown of his head.”
Testicle size, texture and uniformity were also highlighted. “Testicle size is crucial, being highly correlated to fertility levels. A tup lamb’s scrotal circumference should be at least 30 cms (12 inches), with a shearling’s at least 35 cms - in fact the bigger the better. For the bigger they are, the more ewes he will be able to run with!”
Mr Laing suggested farmers measure their double hand span and use that as a quick guide when assessing tups’ testicle size.
Hands were again used by Mr Laing to demonstrate the correct testicle texture. “Feel the firmness of the skin between your stretched thumb and forefinger - that is the texture a tup’s testicles should be. If you relax your hand, the spongy feeling is the texture you do not want in a tup’s testicles.
“The testicles should be of even size. If not, don’t buy, as there may be fertility issues. There should be no lumps at either the top or bottom of either testicle and the bigger the epididymis (semen store near base of scrotum) the better.
“The penis must be healthy, and free of injury or growths.
“A sore brisket will deter a tup from mounting ewes. This is more prevalent in old stock tups which have previously worn a harness. Brisket sores are really difficult to treat. So if you put harnesses on tups, make sure they fit properly and are tightened as the tups lose condition during the mating period.”
Mr Laing also warned of the length of time for a tup to regain fertility after a health problem. “It can be six to eight weeks before his sperm is fertile again, all the more reason to semen test prior to use!
“Tups need to be good on their legs to enable them to walk and work. Lameness, especially footrot which is really painful, will affect a tup’s libido and restrict his mobility, reducing the number of ewes he will serve.
“Finally, remember to check his teeth to ensure he can chew and maintain himself during his working spell,” added Mr Laing.
The next Clyde monitor farm meeting will be in October.
For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings, please visit: www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms
Photo caption: Vet Neil Laing measuring the circumference of a tup’s testicles.