19 January 2001

Check-list of priorities in run-up to lambing

INADEQUATE ewe condition, poor forage and the fishmeal ban are producers key concerns as they plan ewe rations in the run up to lambing.

Low grass dry matters due to wet autumn weather mean ewes body fat stores are likely to be more depleted than usual, according to ADAS beef and sheep consultant, Kate Phillips.

"Ewe condition could be slipping so it is important to condition score ewes now, before it is too late."

Ideally, lowland ewes should have a condition score of 3-3.5 falling to about three by lambing time. For upland ewes, a slightly lower condition score of three is acceptable, reducing to 2.5 at lambing, she advises.

"When condition score is too low, offer big bale silage or hay: Ewes will soon tell you whether they want it or not. But where ewes have a serious lack of condition, concentrate feeding should begin immediately."

Fishmeal has been a common ingredient of both compound and home-mix ewe rations for many years, so the European ban is causing concern for some flockmasters. "Producers are enquiring about what they can use instead of fishmeal," says Mrs Phillips.

Although fishmeal was a beneficial ingredient, noted for its high digestible undegradable protein (DUP) content, there are alternatives, she says.

"Look for a DUP level of 4-5%; supplied by ingredients such as heat treated soya, sopralin and prairie meal. For compound diets look for recognised protein sources and ask for more detail on any ingredient you are unsure about."

Home-mixers should aim to use whole cereals supplemented with soya and some sugar beet, says Mrs Phillips. "Whole cereals are generally best because they reduce acidosis risk, except when you are feeding high quality silage which tends to rush through the digestive system, taking undigested whole cereals with it.

"In this case, just crack cereals, do not roll or grind them. Adding sugar beet pulp to the ration provides a good source of digestible energy and also helps reduce acidosis risk."

As home-mix cereal/soya rations tend to be low in calcium, it is important to provide a suitable mineral, she adds.

With many poor quality silages on farms this year, it will pay to have forage analysed before rationing ewes, says Mrs Phillips. "Protein is especially low in some silages, ideally you should look for a 14-16% crude protein value, otherwise a higher protein concentrate will be required.

"Rations which are too low in protein will lead to poor milk and colostrum production which wont be discovered until the last minute when ewes fail to bag up properly."

Concentrate protein levels should be in the 16-20% range, depending on forage quality, and feeding should begin about eight weeks before lambing for twin-bearing ewes and six weeks before for single-bearing ewes, says Mrs Phillips.

Check ewe condition now to avoid problems later, advises Kate Phillips.