The management of ewes prior to tupping and all the way through pregnancy has a major effect on the number of lambs born and hence profitability of the sheep enterprise.
This was the message which came out of a series of two sheep nutrition meetings hosted by East Coast Viners Animal Nutrition recently. Both meetings, at Inverurie, and Perth were attended by over 60 farmers keen to maximise the outputs from their flocks.
Calum Littlejohn, part of the beef and sheep nutrition team with ECV explained that body condition scoring (BCS) was critical to monitoring the condition of ewes but pointed out that once the ewes are pregnant, it is very difficult to change the BCS.
He advised minimal stress during early pregnancy and maintain the plane of nutrition. He said, “In mid-pregnancy, the ewe should not gain or lose more than half a condition score of body weight, in an average size ewe, that is three to four kg.”
Most farmers know that late pregnancy is the critical time with 70 per cent of foetal development in the final eight weeks of pregnancy, however rumen space is a challenge at this time and if a ewe has a poor BCS, it is too late to change it.
He said, “A ewe carrying twins will have an energy requirement of about 11.4MJ/day seven weeks before lambing; by one week pre-lambing this has risen to 18.3MJ/day with very little rumen space, so it is important to feed high energy and protein at this time.”
ECV Animal Nutrition have a range of ewe feeds suitable for attaining the correct BCS at tupping and feeding throughout pregnancy to maintain BCS and optimise lamb numbers and survival.
The Rolls Royce of the range are the XL Ewe 18% nuts and rolls, which not only have Megalac, a rumen protected fat, to promote milk production, but also Amino Green, a rumen protected protein, which is beneficial to the health of both ewe and lambs.
The whole range contains quality ingredients, vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin E and Selenium, which promote ease of birth and lamb vigour.
Calum, said, “It is very important to look for value when buying feed for pregnant ewes, always read the label and look for quality raw materials such as fibre and protein.”
Euan Hart, regional manager with Scotmin Nutrition, which produce the Megastart Ewe and Lamb mineral tubs sold by ECV, focused on feeding ewes for colostrum quality and milk supply. He said, “Unlike cattle, when sheep lamb their milk production is pre-determined and there is not a lot you can do about it with feeding, so the critical period of nutrition is the last four weeks pre-lambing when colostrum is being produced.”
He emphasised the importance of colostrum with the optimum for a lamb being 50ml/kg of liveweight within six hours of birth. He said, “Colostrum is gone in 24 hours, as has the lambs ability to absorb it, so the most important aspect of lambing is to have vigorous lambs, up on their feet quickly and receiving good quality colostrum; that is what we feed for.”
A recent study of dead lambs under a week old in Wales showed that 28% were related to lack of colostrum and, just to put it in perspective for the assembled group, Euan said, “One litre of colostrum has the same energy as five mars bars!”
He advised that Megastart tubs should be available for four to six weeks before lambing. They provide ewes with, not only an excellent source of energy and a high quality rumen bypass protein combined with minerals and vitamins, but also a unique MOS designed to activate the animals’ immune system and improve colostrum quality.
Steven Eddie, ECV Beef and Sheep nutritionist rounded the evening off by discussing molasses-based liquids for ewes as a source of energy during pregnancy.
He said, “Molasses is a source of sucrose, a 6-carbon sugar which helps with the digestion of fibre and the production of microbial protein in the rumen. It is ideal for giving ewes an energy boost during late pregnancy when their rumens are space restricted.”
The Sheepmol brand produced by ED and F Man is sold by ECV and is a high dry-matter, high sugar blend of cane molasses, glycerine and liquid co-products formulated specifically to feed sheep. There is also a Sheepmol Plus which has added vitamins and minerals.