Love is in the air for our sheep! That’s right, it’s tupping time on the farm and that means our two stud rams (or tups) are getting to spend a bit of time with a number of our ewes. Frankie the Oxford Down and Billy the Whitefaced Woodland ram are getting to know the girls and will “cover” their respective ewes over two periods of seventeen days. This increases their chances of mating during oestrus, a 30 hour period every 17 days during which the ewes are most fertile.

Frankie exhibiting flehmen, with a curled upper lip.

Frankie exhibiting flehmen, with a curled upper lip.

The rams can detect where the ewes are in their cycle by smelling their hormones. There is an area beneath the upper lip which is particularly sensitive to hormones called the vomeronasal organ. To increase contact between the scents and this area, the boys sniff deeply with their upper lip curled back, exhibiting the flehmen response.

Preparing for the big date(s)

In preparation for tupping, we’ve been pampering the ewes with extra feed and access to our richest grazing to encourage them to release more eggs. Both rams and ewes have also been health checked and had a pre-tupping pedicure.

To help keep track of when our sheep are breeding, both rams are fitted with a harness holding a raddle, which marks the ewes as they mount them. We can change the colour of the raddle, which allows us to see when a ewe has been mounted. If a ewe has lots of colors on her back, it suggests that a ewe did not conceive on the first mating, as she should stop being receptive once pregnant. Likewise, if a ewe shows only the first colour we used, she may have conceived right away and might be among the first to lamb.

Both of our studs are experienced, proven rams, who have already sired many lambs here at Mudchute as well as further afield. Although we didn’t breed our own flock last year, both rams acted as studs, with Frankie at Surrey Docks City Farm and Billy on a private farm. This year, you will also notice a number of Jacob ewes in with Frankie the Oxford ram. These ewes are from Stepney City Farm and will return to Stepney after tupping. We’ll be interested to see whether the Oxford/Jacob lambs will take after their mums or dad.

What happens next…

If all goes to plan, we’ll be lambing in late April next year as ewes typically give birth after a 5 month gestation period (an average of 147 days). Here in the UK, shepherds traditionally tup in November, with tupping around Fireworks night for lambs born around Easter, after the worst of the winter weather. The number of lambs born to each ewe may vary, but both Oxford and Whitefaced ewes typically give birth to either twins or single lambs, although we have had triplets in previous years.

If the ewes do conceive, the fertilised embryo will implant 21 to 30 days after breeding. However, we will not see any outward signs of their pregnancy for quite a few months as most of the embryo’s growth occurs in the final 4-6 weeks before birth.

We’ll keep you posted and our fingers crossed for the pitter patter of little hooves.

It takes some pretty heavy duty machinery to spread so much compost.

It takes some pretty heavy duty machinery to spread so much compost.

Grazing makes up a large part of the diet of many of our livestock and ensuring our grass is up to scratch means taking care of our fields. After being nibbled all spring and summer, the fields are looking a little bare and in need of a good feed to improve their condition. We might not be able to control the weather, but we can help enrich the soil. With large grazing fields, we need a lot of compost!

Spreading muck on the big field.

Spreading muck on the big field.

We spread a staggering 250 tonnes of mature compost across our big field with the help of contractors with their enormous machines designed specifically for the purpose. Spreading the compost across the field will distribute nutrients across the pasture and help reinvigorate areas which have been grazed nearly bare. Many thanks to S J Theobald and Sons, particularly Sam and James for all of their help.

As a result of all this activity, the big field will be mucky for a while as the compost washes in and we remove any litter that may have made its way onto the fields. We appreciate your understanding during this work. Thanks for bearing with us as we improve these fields and we look forward to lush green grass once it all settles.

As many of our regular visitors will have noticed, Pets Corner has been undergoing refurbishment works for several months now. We are in the process of redeveloping our small animal enclosures to improve them for both our animals and visitors.

Earlier this summer, we moved our small animals to their temporary enclosures and stripped out the fencing and supports of the previous enclosures. Since then we’ve laid new flooring, constructed new supports and a new roof that lets the light in, but keeps the rain out. This work was only made possible by the help of staff, volunteers and corporate volunteer groups. We’ve been working on creating cladding for the walls of the enclosures by upcycling the wood from wooden pallets. Progress has been steady until now, but has now slowed as a result of a recent incident. Two weeks ago, we were victims of a break-in, with the thieves stealing all of our power tools. This represents a significant setback to the Pets Corner project as well as other important jobs around the farm.

We still need more wooden pallets to complete the project.

We still need more wooden pallets to complete the project.

We would love to be able to resume work as soon as possible, but can’t do so without your help. We urgently appeal to you for any spare power tools, particularly those which were stolen from the farm, including:

  • cordless drills
  • angle grinder
  • belt sander
  • mitre saw
  • reciprocating saw

We would greatly appreciate your help. Alternatively, if you can volunteer your building expertise, loan us tools, or donate your time or that of your team, please let us know. We are also still looking for wooden pallets to upcycle into cladding for Pets Corner. If you might be able to help or know someone who can, please get in touch with us via email to farm@mudchute.org.