In keeping and caring for sheep in flocks large or small, there follows a sequence of events throughout the year, beginning with the selection of breeding stock in late summer or early autumn. Your worming system should have been discussed with your vet and already be in place.
July, August, September
After your lambs have been weaned make a thorough inspection of your ewe flock, paying particular attention to feet, teeth and udders. This would also be a good time to do a faecal egg count on both your lambs and ewes. You may need to mark some for culling, Shetland mutton is a much sought after product. This is also the time to assess whether you require any more stock as September/October are when all the Shows & Sales take place.
Get your ewes onto a rising plane of nutrition by putting them onto clean, fresh grazing. This flushing of the ewes about 3 weeks before mating will result in more eggs being shed by the ovaries and more lambs being born. Any parasitic or foot problems should now have been taken care of.
Spring born lambs should reach slaughter weight during October, depending on the grazing, so now is the time to sort out ones for the abattoir and ones to overwinter.
Shetlands, in common with other hill and primitive sheep, naturally come into season as the days shorten from mid-October and will lamb 5 months later as the days lengthen. A popular date to put the ram in is on November 5th for lambs from April 1st. Some people prefer to lamb in the warmer May weather – in this case put the ram in from December 1st.
December, January, February
For most months of the year Shetlands will do well on grazing grass and other herbage, but at this time of year provide good, dry, leafy hay as they will prefer it to wet or frozen grass which has little nutrient value. A covered hay rack will keep the hay dry and free from mould. During the last six weeks of pregnancy and after lambing you should regularly condition score your ewes so that you can concentrate feed if necessary. If you are unsure about how to condition score your area representative may be able to suggest training.
If you vaccinate against Clostridial diseases you will need to give each ewe a booster 4 weeks before lambing.
Lambing! The most exciting time of the year. If this is your first lambing it is preferable to have either have spent time with an experienced shepherd or have attended one of the many excellent lambing courses that agricultural colleges run. Although Shetlands have a wide pelvis which enables lambs to be born with ease, mal-presentations can occur. Ewes near labour should be inspected at least every three hours, more often if possible. When born the lambs should be quick to stand up and seek the udder.
A shelter is of some kind is very useful if you are lambing outside. Keeping lambs inside for the first 3 or 4 days considerably improves their survival rate and prevents them getting taken by predators such as foxes.
Hopefully all your lambs are now thriving. If you are feeding any concentrates to your ewes this should now be decreased as the grass quality and quantity improves. Depending where you are in the country you will now certainly have to be crutching all your stock or sorting out shearing.
Flystrike will now be a problem so be very vigilant until after shearing when all your sheep (don’t forget the lambs) can be sprayed with an insecticide.
Wean lambs onto fresh, clean grazing. Continue to monitor your lambs/flock worm burden.