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Synchronising Ewes Helps Cumbrian Hill Farmer Achieve Breeding Goals

A young Cumbrian hill farmer is using advanced breeding technology to accelerate the genetic gain in his flock and become a top producer of Bluefaced Leicesters.

Aaron Troughton of Moors Farm, Sedbergh, runs a flock of just under 800 ewes across 670 acres of hill ground in Cumbria. Aside from selling commercial fat lambs, the biggest pay cheque of the year comes from selling Mule gimmer lambs for breeding. This means breeding from the best genetics is key. Aaron had always dreamt of owning genetics from some of the top Bluefaced Leicester flocks in the country, however, with the top tups regularly selling for five-figure sums, it was something that was out of his price range. After spotting an in-lamb Bluefaced Leicester ewe with breeding from top genetics flocks Aaron took the leap and invested. Although he purchased her not knowing the sex of the lamb, in March 2019, she lambed a tup – the result Aaron wished for. “The tup is our flock’s best getter. However, we wanted to get more ewes in lamb to him, so we looked into AI and flushing some of our ewes,” says Aaron.

“I contacted Will Barker at Castle Farm Vets and he agreed to artificially inseminate (AI) 80 of our 100 bought-in draft Swaledale ewes that year using fresh semen collected from the Jackpot tup. We used sponges that year and had 10 breaks to AI. Four were geld, but the rest wouldn’t hold.” “We then got carried away with breeding Bluefaced Leicester’s, went to an in-lamb sale in 2020, and bought a third prize ewe for £2,000. We contacted Will again to AI another 100 Swales ewes, and he booked us in. We buy in 100 draft Swaledale ewes each year and, since using AI, now only buy from the same breeders.” In 2020, Will encouraged them to use CIDR Ovis from Zoetis instead of sponges. “Will flushed the Bluefaced Leicester ewe that we’d bought for £2,000, and from that, we had eight live embryos. We then implanted them into Mules and synchronised the remainder of the 100 to AI using CIDR Ovis,” Aaron commented. “CIDR Ovis was a lot quicker to use, saving quite a bit of time. It’s like a five-second job to insert one, whereas inserting a sponge is a lot more complex and has a higher margin for error. Ewes were also a lot cleaner and we never lost any into the sheep or out of the sheep, as we did with the sponges. Out of the 100 ewes we used them on, eight came back in season, and five of these were geld. You can get more than that using tups for natural service,” adds Aaron. By AI’ing using the best genetics, Aaron has been able to get more ewes in lamb from his one tup and benefit from the condensed lambing period synchronisation brings.“This year, we had 100 ewes lamb in a week. This freed up shed space and then we could get it cleaned and ready for the next batch”.

Why Synchronise Ewes?

Vet Will Barker, Senior Clinical Director at Castle Farm Vets (CVS, Barnard Castle), says many of his clients now opt to use CIDR Ovis over sponges for several reasons:

1. Easier to manage timings. CIDRs must be removed 44-48 hours before AI, depending on whether fresh or frozen semen is used, compared to 52-56 hours for sponges.
2. Tighter synchronisation of oestrus.
3. Cleaner to use.
4. Higher retention rates.

“For those using sponges, this often means removing them in the middle of the night, which many don’t do for obvious reasons. That is probably one of the reasons we see better conception rates with CIDRs,” says Will Barker who also adds, “Sponges can create a smelly discharge, which isn’t pleasant and can indicate a mild infection. The plastic CIDRs don’t get this.”

Synchronising ewes has a place in many flocks, particularly when farmers have jobs off the farm and for those who want to target the early season lamb market. AI and natural service can be used on synchronised ewes. However, Mr Barker says increasing the tup to ewe ratio when using natural service with synchronisation is vital. He says: “The ideal is to have one tup for every 8-10 ewes and that the tups are fertility tested before use. Also, don’t put tups in with the ewes until 24 hours after the CIDRs are removed, as this could result in them being served before, they are fully in season.”

Thank you to Zoetis and Aaron Troughton for their contribution to the NWF Sheep Bulletin Edition 4.

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