Pre-season preparation is the key to minimising problems, reducing losses and achieving a higher lamb yield per ewe, which eventually will lead to improved daily liveweight gain and increased margins.
Ideally, all ewes must be scanned and separated into the groups singles, twins and triplets, at least 6-8 weeks pre lambing. Body condition scoring should have been carried out earlier in the season and ewes should be a target BCS of 3-3.5 at lambing. Any ewes that are either too fat or too thin should be grouped separately and fed accordingly
- Thin ewes - feed grass silage and higher levels of concentrates
- Fat ewes- feed on straw and concentrates, reduced rumen fill and reduced chance of prolapse
If ewes are winter grazing on pasture that will be grazed post lambing, ensure ewes are housed early to allow pasture to recover, this will allow a reduced amount of concentrates to be fed post lambing.
Which compound and how much to feed very much depends on the quality of forage on the farm. It is important to be feeding drier silage. Grass silage at 30-35% DM would be the ideal feed. Feeding wet silages <25% DM will result in greater problems, the main one of which would be greater incidences of prolapse. The rumen is restricted in size as the lambs grow, this occurs predominantly in the last 6 weeks of gestation. Feeding a wet heavy feed means the ewe has to eat more fresh weight to achieve her energy and protein requirements, feeding drier feeds through this time would stimulate intakes. Feeding hay or straw with increased concentrates would be beneficial during this period, especially in sheep with a BCS higher than 3.5.
If forage quality is good, feeding a higher quality compound and reducing the feed rate to allow higher intakes of forage would be the cheapest way of feeding the ewes. This would make the best quality concentrates the cheapest on a cost per day basis.
Ensure forage has no spoilage, mould or soil contamination, as this will have severe consequences on the ewes.
In terms of concentrate feeding recommendations pre and post lambing, this is all dependent on the forage you have, for example:
Grass silage of 35% DM, 10.5ME, 13% CP
A 70kg mule ewe one week pre lambing would require the following:
- 1.4kg DMI
- 215g of Crude Protein
The sheep would require 1.7kg of grass silage along with 0.9kg of Ewemaster nuts to fulfil her daily requirements
When feeding concentrates, if feeding more than 0.5kg you should split these into two feeds to reduce the stress on gut fill. You should also look to feed at consistent times every day to limit the stress on the ewes and get them into a routine. To further reduce the stress in ewes at feeding, ensure there is plenty of feed space; 450mm/hd (18") for a medium sized ewe would be sufficient. This would reduce the risk of trampling and trauma at feedout.
If there is an option of feeding a TMR for sheep this could be a great solution. This option would only be viable if current buildings allow access and feed out by a mixer wagon (should there be a mixer wagon on farm being utilised for another purpose). The TMR would have to be formulated correctly using forage analysis to balance the dry matter intake, energy, protein and mineral and vitamin supplementation.
- TMR feeding would reduce the workload at feed out
- Reduce chance of lamb losses due to trampling at feedout
- Sheep more content, relaxed and do not stuff themselves reducing the problems