With prolonged cold weather preventing grass growth from getting going in most regions, supplementing ewes post-lambing is essential, according to sheep consultant David Evans, from Rural Options.
“Ewes not receiving adequate feed post-lambing will not milk as well, and consequently lambs will struggle.”
Supplementing may seem an expensive option, but failure to provide sufficient feed will be more costly in the long-term as it will be difficult to get lambs back on track, he says.
When grass is below 4cm or discoloured supplementation is necessary, says EBLEX’s Liz Genever. “Vibrant green, typical spring leys are high in protein and ME – anything looking yellow or brown will be low quality and will need appropriate supplementation.”
And ewes grazed on swards below 3cm will need an additional 700g a ewe a day of concentrate plus additional forage, she says.
For Hadleigh, Suffolk, sheep farmer Michael Munford early season poor grass growth has seen marked changes to how he manages his flock of 1200 Scotch Mules post-lambing. “Usually we feed 0.75kg of concentrate a day post-lambing, reducing levels as grass growth improves. However, this year we have been forced to supplement at grass, providing 1kg of fodder beet and 1.5 kg of haylage a ewe a day alongside 1kg of concentrate.”
Although costly, supplementation is necessary, particularly in the crucial three-week period after lambing, to avoid milk drop and prevent lambs from being checked, he says. “Our system is geared towards getting lambs off as quickly as possible: we aim to sell lambs at 16 weeks of age at about 40kg liveweight, with some going at 12 weeks, so preventing a check in growth is essential.”
Mineral supplementation will also be even more necessary this year, says Mr Evans. “The type of mineral deficiency will be farm-specific, but when grass is short, copper and cobalt may be limited.”
And beef and sheep farmers should pay close attention to grazing management as a result of the extended cold weather, says Ms Genever.
“Many pastures will have markedly lower early carrying capacity this season, increasing the danger of over-stocking,” says Ms Genever. Equally, once temperatures increase, rapid grass growth will increase the danger of swards racing ahead of stock, causing losses in grazing quality.
“As a result, extra fertiliser may be needed to achieve sufficient outputs, alongside remedial work to overcome poaching and compaction and possible re-seeding and renovation,” she says.
With a lot of leys killed off over winter, continual assessment of sward performance is essential and over-seeding may be needed when fields are more than 25% bare ground.
“A simple sward stick or ruler is an excellent tool for monitoring early-season grass availability and adjusting stocking rates to key targets is the best way of optimising grassland productivity,” she adds.
And although many farmers have witnessed little grass growth since early spring nitrogen application, there should still be a proportion of this nitrogen available to grass, says the Fertiliser Association of Ireland. “As a result, nitrogen application rates in the coming days should be adjusted to reflect this.”
With grassland looking brown and hungry after the frost, farmers should consider applying compound fertilisers as a good response to phosphorus, and potassium should be seen.
Grass height and concentrate supplementation
• 3.5cm sward – 400g a ewe a day supplementation
• 3cm sward – 700g a ewe a day supplementation (in two feeds)
• <3cm sward – 700g a ewe a day supplementation (in two feeds) plus additional forage