In this article, CAFRE beef and sheep adviser, Brian Hanthorn, provides important ewe feeding and management tips.
With many March lambing ewes now housed, farmers are looking at the most effective way to feed their ewes this winter.
Pre-lambing feeding will influence ewe condition, lamb birth weight, colostrum produced by the ewe, and lamb survival.
All these factors have a massive part to play in the profitability of the sheep enterprise.
70 -75% of foetal growth occurs in the last 6-7 weeks of pregnancy, and the energy demand on the ewe rises dramatically.
The growing lambs reduce the size of the ewe’s rumen, subsequently reducing appetite by up to 30%.
This is why concentrated energy is required at this stage – in the form of concentrates or meal.
Lack of adequate feeding in late pregnancy can result in:
- High levels of twin lamb disease;
- Thin ewes at lambing;
- Poor lamb viability;
- Low lamb birth weights and survival;
- Very poor colostrum quality and quantity.
Over and under-feeding ewes
If you have to use a lot of powdered colostrum to supplement lambs at birth, this could indicate that there are deficits in the feeding plan.
Studies indicate that well-fed ewes produce the best colostrum quality and that there is a huge variation in the quality of powered products.
Research has also shown that well-fed ewes have almost twice as much colostrum within 18 hours after lambing compared to underfed ewes.
Diseases such as watery mouth and scours are more common when ewes are dirty.
This can be due to overstocking or lack of adequate bedding, and where there is a lack of quality colostrum available to the lamb at birth.
Some intensive farmers have routinely administered a product orally at birth to prevent watery mouth and scours caused by E.coli.
This antibiotic is no longer available. Attention to detail with bedding and overall hygiene and cleanliness practices will be ever more important.
Maximising the use of top quality silage is where any feeding plan should begin. This starts with silage analysis to get an indication of its feeding value.
Only the best silage should be fed to sheep, preferably 1st cut with an M.E. of over 11 MJ/kg DM.
It should be well fermented and have no mould or soil contamination. Precision chop silage is preferred over round bales as the short chop length results in higher intakes, therefore, reducing the amount of concentrate feeding needed.
However, many sheep farmers still feed round bales to sheep. Chop length is getting shorter due to more blades in the chopping mechanism of round balers.
You can make significant savings on concentrates by feeding excellent quality silage compared to poor quality silage.
You should offer silage on an ab-lib basis, and 15 cm of feed space per ewe is needed in this case.
|Weeks before lambing||Precision chop||Big bale|
|Total concentrate fed from 6 weeks pre lambing (kg)||
In part two of this article, we will look at concentrate feeding rates, lying areas and trough space.