Base feeding decisions on forage quality to ensure lambing success this winter - Dr Ronald Annett

With weather conditions far from ideal and grass supplies dwindling, plans should now be in place to house pregnant ewes, so they have time to settle on their winter diets before lambing commences.  Energy balance during late pregnancy is a key driver of both lamb birth weight and milk production, so keeping the energy shortfall to a minimum is critical if early lamb losses are to be avoided. By paying attention to detail in some key areas over the next 4-6 weeks, you could actually reduce your lambing workload and have an extra trailer load of lambs to sell next September. 

Base feed levels on forage quality

Forage quality is highly variable every year, but perhaps more so in 2020. Swards harvested during the dry period last April-June have consistently produced some very high-quality silages this winter, with high intake characteristics and energy levels well above 11 MJ/kgDM. Where these silages are available to ewes, feed levels will need to be cut back to minimize the risk of foetal oversize and birthing difficulties.  

On the other hand, many silages harvested from July onwards contain much lower levels of energy and protein than usual. Feed rates will need to be stepped up to compensate for the lower dry-matter and energy intakes. This winter, more than ever, it is crucial to know the quality of silage that ewes are being fed and to plan feeding levels accordingly. Speak to your local Thompsons’ Technical Sales Representative about getting your forage analysed and developing a feed plan tailored to your flock.

Whether yours is a hill or lowland flock, Thompsons’ Ewelac Nuts are the go-to product for balancing energy levels in rations this winter. This 19% nut is rich in high energy cereals plus high quality proteins, including hi-pro soyabean meal and rapeseed meal, for optimal rumen function. All Thompsons’ ewe nuts also contain a high spec mineral package which includes 150 mg/kg Vitamin E plus 0.5 mg/kg selenium to help boost lamb viability.


Monitor body condition

While most ewes are in good body condition at present, ewes have entered the winter in marginally lower condition compared to last year. With the prospect of lower quality silages on offer, it’s inevitable that supplementary feeding will need to commence earlier than usual to avoid excessive condition loss and an increased risk of twin lamb disease closer to lambing. Some loss of body condition is to be expected in the last two weeks before lambing, when nutritional demands are at their peak. But if the loss of body reserves can be limited to no more than 0.5 units of body condition, the impact on lamb viability and milk supply will be minimal.  Overfeeding thin ewes, to help them gain body condition, is particularly challenging during the final month of pregnancy. They must certainly not be fed in excess of requirements over the last 2 weeks before lambing because this is likely to increase the risk of foetal oversize.  

Don’t undersupply dietary protein

Udder development and colostrum production in pregnant ewes takes place almost entirely during the final 2 weeks before lambing, and both these processes are protein hungry. Unfortunately this period also coincides with a surge in foetal growth. If the supply of dietary protein is limiting, priority is given to sustaining pregnancy at the expense of udder development, so ewes consequently lamb down with a limited colostrum supply. The result is more lambs with impaired immunity and more lambs needing to be bottle-fed.   

With many silages having lower energy and protein levels this year, milk supplies are likely to come under pressure unless action is taken.  To help avoid this scenario, Thompsons have developed Super Hi-Lamb Ewe Nuts. This 20% nut contains a very high level of digestible and undegradable protein, in the form of soyabean meal, alongside maize, wheat, rumen-protected fat and other high energy ingredients. Developed especially for highly prolific flocks (scanning 190% and above) where nutritional stresses are most severe, the extra energy and protein supplied in Super Hi-Lamb Ewe Nuts helps drive milk production and lamb output. They should also feature in ewe diets if silage protein levels fall below 12%.            

Do the basics well

Whether you are feeding cattle or sheep, it is often the simple things that impact most on performance. Silage intake in sheep is very sensitive to fermentation quality and chop length, so when it comes to feeding silage to ewes, always feed the best quality material available, and preferably precision chop silage over bales. Also, to maximise intake, keep the silage as fresh as possible, removing refusals before they become stale. Ensure ewes always have adequate clean drinking water available, especially when feeding dry forages like hay or haylage. Check flow rates and clean out water troughs on a weekly basis. Pen facilities should provide at least 400-450mm trough space to ensure all ewes get their fair share. Triplet-bearing or thin ewes will benefit from some additional feed space (450-500 mm) to reduce competition and stress. When feeding concentrates, never feed more than 0.5kg/ewe in a single feed to minimise the risk of acidosis.

At Thompsons, our aim is to help ensure your lambing period runs as smoothly as possible. If you would like help or advice on feeding your ewes, contact your local Thompson Sales Representative or contact the mill on; 028 9035 1321.

Posted 27,01,21 by allison.

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