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Nutrition key to successful lambing period

17 March 2016

This winter, mild temperatures and record rainfall levels have led to grazing that may be unable to meet ewe requirements during late pregnancy as intakes may be below normal.

For this reason, farmers should be looking to carefully manage nutrition and supplement diets to help reduce potential problems especially from twin lamb disease (pregnancy toxaemia).

Bethany May, Trident Feeds ruminant nutritionist explains that although many pastures appear ‘lush’ and adequate for pregnant ewes, the unusual weather witnessed this winter has meant that in many instances ‘grazed grass’ fed alone, despite some producers optimism, may be unable to meet the ewe’s requirements during the last 6 to 8 weeks.

Final Trimester

“Fresh grass is typically around 15-25 per cent dry matter (DM). However, we’ve seen levels drop to around 12 per cent in many areas, largely due to the mild, wet conditions.

“This means that DM intakes of ewes grazing swards are likely to be significantly reduced due to increased bulk fill and further confounded by ewes seeking shelter rather than grazing.

“This results in ewes being unable to consume enough feed to meet the high energy demands in the run up to lambing, increasing the risk of diseases such as twin lamb.”

Miss May explains that following wet weather, a modest reduction in grass DM from 20 to 15%, can result in a significant shortfall in dry matter intake’s and energy intake, increasing the risk of twin lamb disease and small lamb birth weights.

 “On top of this, the size of the rumen drastically reduces as pregnancy progresses due to the foetus taking up more abdominal space so every mouthful really counts.

“It’s really important that the ewes have adequate ME levels in the diet and this is why supplementary feeding is so important, even if on first inspection forages appear adequate. Starting with a rumen friendly compound, rich in sugar beet feed to complement the lush grass is ideal in this situation.”

Assessing your grazing

It’s not easy to predict if your forage is providing enough nutritional value in late pregnancy, however body condition scoring (BCS) can help with this.

“A BCS lower than 2.5 is an indicator that supplementary feeding may be necessary. For this reason, it’s important to monitor BCS changes throughout pregnancy and try to detect any sudden reductions as it helps determine the level of supplemental feeding necessary before it’s too late, whether housed indoors or grazed outdoors.

“The supply of sufficient feed is crucial for maintaining body condition and helps boost milk availability.” For this reason, Miss May recommends producers consider the benefits of supplementing diets.

“Sugar beet feed contains high levels of energy, a high proportion of which is sugar, so is the perfect feed to boost daily ME intakes while slowly digestible fibre helps maintain rumen health throughout pregnancy. It can be fed up to 0.5kg per ewe per day or up to 40 per cent inclusion in a compound feed.

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“The feed source also has an advantage over other feed materials as the robust pellet quality means there is little wastage when fed on the ground, even in poor weather, which is ideal for hill and upland systems.”

Early lamb growth rates

Miss May adds that encouraging the rumen to develop as early as possible could be key to profitable lamb growth this spring. “It’s really straight forward, the sooner the rumen develops, the quicker the lamb will grow.”

She explains that relying on the natural development of the lamb’s rumen from grass alone, is not sufficient to maximise performance. “Without access to highly palatable hard feeds with good levels of digestible fibre, rumen development will be much slower. There’s also a real risk of a check in lamb growth following weaning.

“To reduce the risk of this happening, producers should start feeding lambs creep feed as soon as possible, and including sugar beet in this ration will encourage early intakes. This will not only promote rumen development, it will also quickly make them less dependent on the ewe, encouraging efficient growth rates throughout their life.” 

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