Ultrasound scanning of in-lamb ewes is one of the most useful (and cost effective) management tools for sheep keepers, regardless of the size of their flocks. Scanning is carried out by contactors who travel from farm to farm, often following the same schedule of visits year after year. I have heard smallholders say that they have difficulty in getting a contractor to come and scan only a few ewes, but this has not been my experience.
However, it is, of course, far less convenient for the operator to set up all his equipment to do just a handful of sheep than it would be on a farm where there are hundreds of ewes, so please ensure that everything runs smoothly with the minimum of down time. It’s quite a good idea to liase with other local flock owners – both large and small – to ensure that, between you, you can make a full schedule for a day’s work. This is far better than ‘phoning a contractor only to find that he was in your area yesterday! An efficient scanner, with a good set-up (as seen here) will do a small flock of 25 ewes in about 10 minutes and, at less than 50p / ewe, it really is money well spent, as savings can immediately be made by accurate feeding according to the number of lambs carried, and by identifying (and not feeding) any barreners. It also enables you to make best use of the limited land and housing resources of the smallholding, by closely tailoring management to the flock’s needs. Without the benefit of the scanning results, management of ewes in late pregnancy is purely a matter of guesswork, and compromises will inevitably have to be made – compromises that could, ultimately, affect the health and welfare of the flock and the survivability of your lambs. Following scanning, it might be necessary to split up the flock into different groups. For example, ewes carrying triplets will need some extra care and attention almost immediately, so it’s just as well to split them off and accommodate them somewhere close at hand. Barren ewes can be sold off (if that’s your policy), freeing up more grazing for the productive portion of the flock. Singles and twins can also be parted from one another at some point shortly after scanning, so that you can ration them accordingly. Without this extra degree of control you risk ending up with either oversize singles (and lambing difficulties) or undersize twins (and reduced survival rates).
For a step-by-step guide see the multi media photo gallery (above right)