Supplementing the ewe pre-lambing

Appropriate ewe nutrition and management during late pregnancy is key to a profitable mid-season lamb production.

Saturday, 15th January 2022, 8:32 am

Correct nutrition in the last six to seven weeks pre-lambing, influences lamb birth weight, lamb vigour, colostrum production, lamb survival and ultimately influences farm profitability for the upcoming year.

In this short period 75-80% of foetal growth occurs, subsequently increasing the ewe’s nutritional requirements. The ewe also requires additional nutrients for maintaining her own body reserves, colostrum production, and milk production in the weeks following lambing. However, as the lambs grow rumen space is reduced and appetite can be suppressed by up to 30%, making it difficult for the ewe to meet her nutrient demands from forage alone. Therefore, concentrate supplementation is required.

The level of concentrate feeding required for ewes will be determined on the following key factors:

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Ewes at a feeding barrier

1. Forage quality-

As forage is notoriously variable, testing is critical to determine the quality (dry matter, energy, D value and protein values) being fed and therefore how long concentrate supplementation will be required.

In the last three weeks of pregnancy the ewe’s requirement for protein will increase from 100g of protein per day to 200g per day. Protein quality is critically important for lamb growth, udder development, colostrum production and milk supply in early lactation.

During late pregnancy microbial protein can only meet 60-70% of the ewe’s protein requirements, so there is need for bypass protein in the diet especially for ewes carrying multiple lambs. Sources of bypass protein include Soya bean meal and Lactamine. Insufficient protein can decrease colostrum quantity by 50% and colostrum quality by 65%.

Sally Duffy

2. Scanning Results-

Pregnancy scanning should be carried out around 80 days post tupping to identify ewes with higher requirements and to ensure that supplementation is used efficiently.

Ewes should be grouped according to litter size and expected lambing date before starting to feed concentrates. This will ensure that ewes are in good condition at lambing, have a good milk supply and do not produce over-sized singles and/or under-sized multiple lambs, reducing lambing problems and associated mortality.

Ewe body condition score should also be assessed at scanning, ideally a target BCS at lambing should be a minimum of 3.0 for lowland ewes and 2.5 for hill ewes. Thin ewes may be supplemented with additional concentrates to gain condition.

Other important factors to consider

Minerals-

The supplementation of a good mineral and vitamin premix in the pre-lambing concentrate feed such as Maxcare ewe + Vit E, is an essential part of the diet to ensure optimal performance. Ewes require a comprehensive range of trace elements minerals and vitamins pre lambing in particular-

Vitamins E – important for immunity, stimulates lamb vigour at birth and subsequent growth to weaning. Supplementation is crucial as levels in conserved forages are generally low. 

Selenium- boost’s ewe immunity and health. It also aids lamb vigour by helping mobilise brown fat at birth and reducing risk of hypothermia.

Cobalt – An important constituent of vitamin B12. Helps lambs to stand and suckle earlier.

Iodine – essential for foetal development and lamb vigour.

Zinc – Helps limit mastitis and improve hoof health.

Water-

A fresh clean water supply is always critical for pregnant ewes. A pregnant ewe can consume up to six litres of water per day and up to 8-10 litres during lactation. Water troughs should be checked and cleaned out on a regular basis, to avoid contamination. Additionally, checks should be taken in frosty weather to ensure constant water supply.