Ewe body condition scores should determine pre-lambing feeding programmes

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Flockowners should body condition score ewes both at scanning and then again a month before lambing in order to accurately assess their feed requirements in the final weeks of pregnancy, according to Teagasc sheep specialist Edward Egan. He made this assertion at the 2015 Teagasc annual sheep conference.

“I know that many farmers will regard this approach as creating extra work for them. However, there is an opportunity to handle sheep quite easily at scanning and when they receive their pre lambing clostridial vaccinations,” he said.

“Ewes should have a body condition score of 3.5 at scanning, dropping to 3.0 at point of lambing. They should then be able to take half a condition score off their backs in order to produce all the milk their newborn lambs need.

“But ewes that lamb down in poor condition will not be in a position to manipulate their body reserves in this way. As a consequence they will require additional concentrate feeding, simply to produce the milk required by their lambs.”

Egan went on to point out that farmers should have all available forages analysed before attempting to compile a feeding programme for their pre lambing ewes.

“And this includes hay,” he said.

“It is a forage source that is notoriously low in terms of its protein content. And this, invariably, catches flockowners out when they sit down to work out ration formulations.”

The Navan-based sheep specialist confirmed that farmers should only feed high quality energy and protein sources.

“Crude protein levels should not be confused with protein quality,” he said.

“Specifically, it is the quality of the protein fed to the ewe that will determine the quality of the colostrum that is available to her newborn lambs. And, in this regard, soyabean meal is the highest quality protein source that can be offered to ewes at the present time.

“Where energy is concerned farmers should opt to feed barley, wheat and maize. Ingredients, such as soya, citrus pulp and distillers’ grains are also extremely valuable energy sources.”