Preparing for the lambing season
Achievement of lamb growth targets starts with the right preparations ahead of lambing. What happens from scanning through to the first four to six weeks of ewe and lamb nutrition has a huge influence on lamb daily live weight gain (DLWG) and how quickly they can leave the farm.
In episode 3 of Wynnstay Agri-Hub podcast, season 2, I was joined by youngstock specialist Laura Monk and national Sheep and Beef specialist Bryn Hughes to look ahead to prepare for the upcoming lambing season. We talked through the critical stages which influence lamb success, starting with ewe nutrition during pregnancy.
When should you begin to moniter body condition?
You should monitor ewe body condition from early to mid-pregnancy. Scanning is an ideal time to body condition score, as each ewe is being handled when being put through the scanning box.
For lowland ewes, any animal scoring below 3.5 needs some extra feed to help them maintain and gain condition. Ewes in poor condition at lambing do not perform. They are more prone to mastitis, one of the biggest causes of premature culling of ewes, and their lambs will be the ones still on-farm later in the year, months after the high performing animals have gone to market.
It is best to get ewes to their target condition score as early as possible, then maintain it, as changes in diet in late pregnancy can result in large lambs and therefore difficult births. Aiming for sward lengths of 6cm of good quality grass, or providing high-quality forage, will help ewes to gain and maintain condition. If the grass or forage is not of high enough quality, then supplementary feeding is required. Roots are ideal at this time of year or compound feed if roots are not possible.
Analyse forage and start supplementary feeding
Six weeks before lambing is due to start, it is worth doing a forage analysis to understand the quality of forage available. High energy and high protein grass silage is ideal, however, most 2021 silage is average in terms of quality, so many ewes will benefit from supplementary feeding. When introducing supplementary feed, start with 0.5kg per ewe and build it up to 1.2kg for ewes with triplets.
Within six weeks, body condition and nutrition will start to influence colostrum quality. Quality protein in the ewes’ diets will support the production of antibodies, resulting in high-quality colostrum.
Another tried and tested means of maintaining ewe body condition is to use blocks as supplementary feed. Feed blocks (higher intake) and harder blocks (lower intake, higher energy content) are effective at keeping condition on ewes. Feed blocks can:
- Support shy feeders by allowing them to nibble on the blocks in their own time
- Reduce the incidence of twin lamb disease
- Ensure mineral status ewes
- Have a positive effect on colostrum production and quality
Final preparations for you to consider before lambing begins
A ewe’s intake of forage will decline as lambs grow and space in the rumen reduces. Good quality supplements will help increase protein and energy in the ration, to make up for reduced consumption. The Wynnstay compound feeds are all formulated to provide correct levels of protein and energy to ewes to set them up for the lambing period.
Before lambing begins, check everything is ready, including bottles, tubes, colostrum replacer and milk replacer. Once into lambing, the time to go and pick things up is gone. Download a copy of our lambing checklist for sheep farmers, click here.
Colostrum management during lambing
Once lambs are born they have very little immunity to disease. It is essential to get them into a clean area in the lambing shed, to reduce the risk of exposure to pathogens.
Their gut is open to ingesting antibodies from colostrum in the first 24 hours from birth. Most single and twin lambs will consume enough colostrum on their own, but triplets will need intervention.
For lambs receiving colostrum replacer, they will need 50ml per kg of body weight, which is approximately 500ml, in the first 24 hours.
An effective triplet strategy will influence profitability per lamb. Three lambs on one ewe will not allow them to reach growth rate targets. Taking one away and rearing on milk replacer costs around £50 but is worth doing as the lamb will be worth more when sold. Each lamb will take approximately 13kg of lamb milk replacer powder.
Ewe and lamb nutrition post lambing
The six weeks after lambing is critical. Ewes need enough feed resources to maintain a good level of milk production. They should be turned out onto 6cm of grass, or, if that is not available, they will continue to need supplementary feeding. The overall diet needs to contain over 12.5 MJ ME of energy.
In lambs, high energy creep feed will drive performance. They do not eat a massive amount of creep early on, so it is worth the investment to start them off.
Average lamb DLWG is around 100-150g in the UK. However, as much as 400g is achievable with a high level of attention to detail from early pregnancy onwards. For February to March born lambs, a DLWG at 400g can result in them being away by July. This results in less grazing pressure once they are gone as summer grass growth declines and potential access to higher prices earlier in the year.
For more information listen to episode 3 of the Wynnstay Agri-hub podcast, season two. Or revisit the season 1 episodes on lambing lessons from 2021 and early lambing and beef calf rearing, for further resources to help prepare for the lambing season ahead.