Manage Nutrition and Maximise Profit
The profitability of any sheep unit is determined by the number of lambs born and reared successfully per ewe, making her health and wellbeing paramount. Feeding during late pregnancy potentially influences ewe mortality, dystocia, mothering ability, lamb viability and ultimately lamb growth rates. Every year producers face a different set of challenges to cope with, and this year is no exception. Despite reasonable temperatures and grass growth the wet weather has led to challenging grazing conditions. Driving dry matter intakes in current wet and wintry weather may have hindered body condition of ewes with some ewes being housed slightly lighter than is ideal. (aim for 2.5-3.0) Wetter grazing conditions may further predispose ewes to increased fluke burdens which will impact on subsequent performance.
Body Condition & Batching
Ewes should now be housed, scanned and batched accordingly depending on whether they are single, twin or triplet bearing. Batching of ewes is critical to ensure target feeding of animals. Single bearing ewes have approximately 25% less energy requirements than twin bearing, whereas triplet bearing ewes have approximately 10% more energy requirements than twin bearing. (See Table 1 which shows feeding rates for a 70kg twin bearing ewe on various forages.) Body condition scoring of ewes should be carried out six weeks pre-lambing so that there is time for the feeding regime to be modified if BCS falls outside the desired range.
This winter has seen a considerable range in forage quality therefore it is essential that silage is analysed to determine the correct level of concentrate supplementation. Knowing both forage quality and lambing percentage, will help determine what compound ration will complement the overall diet as well as calculating feeding rates in the weeks pre-lambing, in order to meet energy and protein requirements of the ewe. In the final six weeks of gestation, approximately 75% of foetal growth occurs, with energy needed for maintenance, foetal growth, and colostrum production (in the last two weeks). Cold stress will further increase the energy requirements of the ewe. Physically, rumen space will be continually decreasing as lamb size increases, therefore the energy density of the ewe’s diet needs to be increased accordingly depending on both the condition of the ewe and the number of lambs being carried.
Correct supplementation of ewes can help alleviate nutritional disorders in the ewe such as ketosis. An inadequate supply of energy will result in the ewe mobilising her own body fat to meet her increasing nutritional needs, resulting in toxic ketone bodies being produced. Other factors such as protein requirements also increase in the final weeks of pregnancy. At this stage, along with RDP (rumen degradable protein) it is desirable that some UDP (rumen bypass protein), is included in the diet. This has a two pronged approach, firstly by saving valuable energy when intakes are declining and secondly by supplying essential protein for colostrum and milk production.
Mineral supplementation is vital in late pregnancy nutrition especially selenium along with vitamin E. Both selenium and vitamin E play a key role in immune function and are recognised for their ability to increase lamb vigour. Protected selenium (Selplex) is also known to reduce to risk of white muscle disease and enhance the quality of colostrum for new born lambs.
Other management factors can also have a significant impact on ewe performance;
• Lactating ewes will consume up to 100% more water. Adequate clean water should be available at all times.
• Ideally ewes should have their feed split over two feeds per day. Research would also suggest that moving from once to twice a day feeding increased silage consumption by 20%.
• Adequate feed space is essential to ensure intakes are not compromised in the final weeks pre-lambing.
Thompsons’ sheep range is designed to meet the nutritional requirements of the ewes by promoting their health, the ability of the lamb to survive and the overall performance of the flock. For further information, please contact your local Thompsons’ representative, call (028) 9035 1321 or visit our website on www.thompson.co.uk
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