It’s tupping time on the farm – and it means we, and our ewes, are making plans for new arrivals in the spring. A tup is a lovely old mediaeval word for an uncastrated male sheep, so it follows that tupping is when the ram is put to the ewes for mating. Normally the boys are kept away from the girls, for obvious reasons, until it’s time for tupping of course. We spend a lot of time selecting the rams with the most potential as the genetic future of the flock, and the farm’s income later on, both rely on robust, virile tups. We have a large flock of commercial sheep on the working farm in addition to the ever-popular rare and native breeds that steal the limelight at the Farm Park, such as the Shetlands, the Herdwicks and the long-woolled local heroes, the Cotswolds.
When the ram is put in with the ewes, it’s important to know that he’s doing his job properly (a love shy ram is no good to anyone) and the easiest way to find out is to fit him with a ram harness and crayon, sometimes called a raddle. It means when he serves each ewe the crayon leaves a coloured mark on her rump. There’s a strict system of changing the colour of the crayon and that way it’s easy to tell which ewes he’s mated with and when. From that we can get our due dates right and ensure that the entire flock aren’t all lambing at the same time. The importance of breeding and genetics was brilliantly displayed a few weeks ago at the annual event that I like to call the ‘shop window’ for rare breeds; the Traditional Native Breeds Show and Sale at Melton Mowbray. It’s a spectacle to see so many pedigree animals, and their proud owners, from every part of the British Isles in one place and their price at auction always relies on having the best possible genes. As well as British cattle, pig and poultry breeds there were about 1,000 sheep on show. I’m a great supporter of the two-day event so we took Kerry Hills, Norfolk Horns, Portlands, some Whiteface Dartmoor ewes, North Ronaldsays, Borerays and a very fine Castlemilk Moorit ram. If our top tups perform well in the next few weeks, it’ll be great news for them, for us and for the Melton Mowbray sale in the future.