Lake-District Hill Farmer Reaping the Rewards from Synchronisation and AI

A first-generation Lake District hill farmer is reaping the benefits from synchronising and artificially inseminating (AI'ing) his flock of Swaledale ewes and says if it weren't for lack of space on the farm, he would use it across his entire flock of 1,900 breeding Swale, Herdwick and Mule ewes.

Andrew Nicolson of Swinside End Farm, High Lorton, Cumbria, started AI'ing a third of his 900 Swaledale ewes about 15 years ago with semen from Bluefaced Leicester tups to speed up genetic gain.

Andrew is well renowned for his excellent breeding stock sold through his local mart in Cockermouth, with repeat custom coming from across the country. He regularly tops trade and was awarded the best run of lambs at a sale last year.

Eager to continue maximising the genetic gain of his flock, he purchases the best Bluefaced Leicester tups he can to use across his Swaledale ewes to produce strong Mule ewes as well as good fat lambs – buying tups up to £20,000. He keeps a proportion of Mule ewes as replacements, with the rest sold as breeding ewe lambs along with wether fat lambs finished on the farm.

Getting more from a tup with AI

Mr Nicolson explains: "With AI, I can invest more in a tup and use it across more ewes. One tup can easily mate up to 200 ewes in one semen collection. Sometimes I will obtain a tup in a half share to halve the costs, and AI means both of us can use the tup at the same time.

"We also know that the tup we are using is fertile, as the semen, which is collected fresh, is checked by our vet technician Dan Fawcett. There's certainly no risk to the tup going lame, and it gives me great satisfaction knowing that once the ewes have been AI'd, it’s a case of job done," he says. 

AI also enables him to try out younger and older tups that may struggle to mate so many ewes because of their age, but are at the top of their game when it comes to genetics.

Why CIDR Ovis?

Mr Nicolson uses CIDR Ovis – a t-shaped progesterone device, to synchronise his ewes, which he rates over sponges due to their ease of use, improved conception rates, high retention rates and safety. He mates about a third of his 900 head of Swaledale ewes artificially using CIDR Ovis, with lambing starting on 20 March.

"CIDR Ovis allows us to get a lot of sheep lambed early by fetching the cycle slightly earlier. By lambing in such a condensed period, lambs are more uniform and it enables us to fine-tune the feeding of the ewes in the run-up to lambing," he adds.

"CIDR Ovis devices are easier to use than sponges and they are cleaner. Our conception rates were not as good with sponges, possibly due to some infection they seem to pick up and others having lost the sponge.”

Use of CIDRs

CIDRs are inserted two weeks before mating and two days before insemination, are removed, and an injection of eCG (PMSG) hormone given. Timing is key to its success.

Andrew explains: "If we pull the CIDRs in the morning, we will need to AI in the morning two days later. You have to be really on it with the times to synchronise successfully."

In 2022, only 20 ewes out of 320 (6%) were not in lamb to the first serve. Mr Nicolson says keeping ewes stress-free is paramount in the 14 days post-insemination. "To have the best chance of a ewe holding to first serve, you must keep them stress-free. Tups are added towards the end of the 14 days, so pick up any ewes returning to heat."

Although the costs of semen collection, insemination and synchronisation are expensive at close to £10 a ewe, it's a figure Mr Nicolson has calculated is worth it. "For £3,200, we can produce over 600 lambs from one Bluefaced Leicester tup, meaning we are maximising any investment in tups we make by buying better tups, which can be used across more ewes. Sometimes you have to spend a bit of money to save a bit.

"But it doesn't just boil down to cost- it works for our system,” Mr Nicolson adds.  “We have a lot of sheep and land spread out, and it means we can lamb a proportion of our ewes at home as we couldn't lamb them all outside. We can then sell lambs in uniform batches. It also enables us to organise labour for when the ewes are lambing," he says.

Mr Nicolson says he would happily AI the whole flock if he had the room to do it and could guarantee the weather.

"We don't have the room to lamb more ewes inside, nor do we have the land around the farm to turn them out, with only 30 acres surrounding the farm and the rest of the 1,400 acres away from the farm and up to 2,800ft above sea level.”

Box: Benefits of CIDR Ovis

  • Can serve more ewes to one tup by AI
  • Allows use of better-quality genetics
  • Can use older and younger tups
  • Improved conception rates
  • More controlled and can organise staff
  • Lambs more uniform
  • Easier to manage ewe nutrition in run-up to lambing

About Zoetis

As the world’s leading animal health company, Zoetis is driven by a singular purpose: to nurture our world and humankind by advancing care for animals. After innovating ways to predict, prevent, detect, and treat animal illness for more than 70 years, Zoetis continues to stand by those raising and caring for animals worldwide – from veterinarians and pet owners to livestock farmers and ranchers. The company’s leading portfolio and pipeline of medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and technologies make a difference in over 100 countries. A Fortune 500 company, Zoetis generated revenue of $8.1 billion in 2022 with approximately 13,800 employees.

CIDR OVIS contains progesterone. POM-V. For further information, please contact your veterinary surgeon, see the product’s SPC or contact Zoetis UK Limited, First Floor, Birchwood Building, Springfield Drive, Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22 7LP. Customer support, 0345 300 8034. Use medicines responsibly ( Date of production: June 2023 MM-26971

1st September 2023

Back to news