Nutrition and health care are two key issues for early lambing ewes

EWES that are due to start lambing in early January are now entering into the last six weeks of pregnancy. This period signals the start of pre lambing feeding and various veterinary tasks that should be completed.

Adequate ewe nutrition in the last six to eight weeks pre lambing is essential to both the well being of the ewe, her ability to milk post lambing and the birth weight of the lamb. From a nutrition point of view the last six to eight weeks can be further broken down into two periods. The first period is the period up to three weeks prior to lambing. At this stage the main requirement for the ewe is energy.

The second period (the last two to three weeks) prior to lambing there is an increased requirement for both protein (200 gms per day) and energy (1.3 UFL). Failure to supply adequate protein and energy can lead to ewes going down with twin lamb disease, having less than adequate milk at lambing time and undersized lambs.

Feeding levels will vary depending on litters size, ewe condition and the roughage quality available. Ewes carrying singles should be started on concentrates two weeks later and receive 30% less than twin bearing ewes. And ewes carrying triplets should receive concentrate feeding two weeks earlier and get 30% more concentrate feed than the twin bearing ewes.

Next to nutrition the whole area of healthcare also becomes very important. On farms with a history of fluke a pre lambing treatment should be planned. Where this has not already happened in recent weeks it may be given in conjunction with the clostridial booster vaccine. If ewes are housed prior to lambing select a flukicide that is effective against immature fluke that were picked up before housing. This will reduce the number of treatments required later on. We are no longer recommending routine dosing of adult ewes for stomach worms due to the increased levels of resistance to anthelmintics that are being found in Irish sheep flocks. For this reason the use of combined fluke and worm drenches for routine dosing of the adult ewes is not recommended.

Where vaccination for clostridial diseases and pasturella pneumonia is being carried out ewes should receive their annual booster four to six weeks pre lambing. In order for this vaccination programme to work the ewes will have to have undergone an initial vaccination programme consisting of two shots four to six weeks apart. Also for the lambs to receive the maternal immunity they will have to receive adequate colostrum in the first six hours of life.

Lameness is also a big problem and ewes that are heavy in lamb are prone to going down with twin lamb disease where lameness impedes their ability to forage and fight for meal at the trough. Ideally all health treatments should be complete before the ewes enter the last four weeks of pregnancy. Handling ewes in late pregnancy increases the risk of injuries and slipped lambs. Start footbathing, paring etc. before ewes enter this critical period so that you can get on top of any problems. The use of cubicle lime around troughs can help to reduce lameness in housed flocks.

Now is the time to sort out your early lambing flock. Ewes that lamb down in poor condition either due to poor nutrition or heavy parasite/disease burdens will not be in a position to milk to their full potential.