Feeding ewes to improve profitability

Feeding ewes to improve profitability - Every year producers can face different challenges, but feeding the ewe during late pregnancy will always influence ewe mortality, dystocia, mothering ability, lamb viability and ultimately growth rates. With lambing season coming soon, or maybe even started, feeding ewes is critical with the profitability of any sheep unit determined by the number of lambs born and reared successfully.

Forage issues - Despite a milder winter and reasonable grass growth, the wet weather in some areas has led to challenging grazing conditions were stocking density is high, but in most cases body condition of ewes is close to target (aim for 2.5-3.0). This winter has seen a considerable range in both forage quantity and 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. Mineral supplementation is also important. Geographically certain minerals such as Vitamin E and Selenium typically are low in forage samples within Northern Ireland, so this needs also factored in when considering balancing the ewe’s diet. Silage intake in ewes is particularly sensitive to fermentation quality and chop length, with research indicating well preserved precision chop length offering the greatest intake potential.

Batching - Ewes should now be housed, scanned and batched accordingly depending on whether they are single, twin or triplet bearing. Batching is critical to ensure target feeding so that ewes are neither under or overfed depending on the number of lambs the ewe is carrying. 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. 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 necessary. Nutrient requirements of sheep are not static, many factors such as age, body weight and stage of lactation will ultimately determine the overall nutrient requirements.In the final six weeks of gestation, approximately 75% of foetal growth occurs, with extra 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 body condition score, the condition of the ewe and the number of lambs being carried. 

Available energy - 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. Rations are formulated with both high levels of cereals and protected fat in within the top rations to ensure energy requirements are met. Soya features as the main protein source to match the ewes protein requirements.Mineral supplementation is vital and 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 the risk of white muscle disease and enhance the quality of colostrum for new born lambs. Rations have been formulated to supply both a high level of Vitamin E and selenium with top rations formulated to 175mg/kg and 0.70 mg/kg respectively.

Other management factors can also have a significant impact on ewe performance;

Lactating ewes will consume up to 100% more water than non-lactating ewes. Adequate clean water should be available at all times. On colder days heating the water will further drive water intakes.

Ideally ewes should have their feed split over two feeds per day.

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 health, lamb survivability and performance. 

Sound management in the Sperrins - A successful lambing season requires excellent management, proper housing, a good feeding programme, and most of all good planning. All of the above are very evident on the farm of the McGilligan family situated on the Foreglen Road just outside Dungiven, where Sean and his father Harry will lamb 450 sheep starting from the 15th of March. 200 Blackface ewes, forming the upland portion of the flock, are tupped to both a Blackface ram and a Blue Leicester ram - which will go on to produce replacement mule ewes for the 200 strong lowland flock. The lowland ewes are in-lamb this winter to a Suffolk ram and Sean will also lamb 50 Cheviot ewes tupped to a Cheviot ram. 

Sean and Harry aim to have all lambs finished off-grass however, where necessary, lambs will be fed additional Thompsons’ Intensive Lamb finisher Pellets from August onwards to maintain live-weight gains with late season grass. All the sheep have recently been scanned, with a pleasing result of 1.95 for the lowland ewes, 1.6 for the upland Blackface sheep and 1.55 for the Cheviot ewes. All ewes will now be batched according to the scan and allocated to a feed regime from now until lambing. The twin/triplet bearing lowland ewes are currently housed and fed ad-lib 1st cut silage - which recently analysed at 23% DM, 11% crude protein and 10.6 ME - alongside 0.5kg/day of Thompsons’ Ewelac nuts, increasing to 1.0kg/day four weeks before lambing. Sean says that although they make silage of a reasonable quality each year, sometimes it isn’t enough. “Our silage is good, but it is still crucial that we get enough of the right quality feed into ewes early enough. Ewes with a shortage of milk are the nightmare scenario at lambing time; however it is something in all our years feeding Thompsons’ Ewelac nuts we’ve never had a problem with.”  Sean and Harry’s aim is to turn out ewes and lambs to grass as soon after lambing as possible, depending on weather conditions. “Ewes are coming in this year close to target body condition, which is possibly a reflection of the relatively dry winter we have had so far, but we will still continue to feed for up to four weeks post-lambing, depending on the how grass grows,” adds Sean. The 200 horned ewes which are run on the mountain for most of the year are also scanned to aid management at lambing. All upland single ewes are lambed outside with doubles being brought home and fed Ewelac nuts from six weeks prior to lambing, increasing to 1kg/day four weeks before lambing. All upland singles are fed 0.5kg for two weeks before lambing. Sean is very aware of the importance of getting lambs off to a good start and the role that Vitamin E and Selenium plays. “Selling lambs is our business and it is crucial that we minimise the losses. Over the years, feeding Thompsons’ Ewelac Nuts has proven to us the benefits of high levels of Vitamin E and Selenium in terms of liveliness of lambs at birth, and their performance afterwards,” concludes Sean.

For further information on the range of Sheep rations available contact your local Thompsons’ representative or sales on; (028) 9035 1321

Caption; L-R Sheep farmers Harry and Sean McGilligan discuss the strategy for profitability with Thompsons’ Thomas Harkin and Richard Moore.

Posted 31,01,17 by allison.

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