18 August 1995

Dont panic when its dry

Pre-tupping management of ewes is vital to ensure body condition allows optimum fertility. It is also a chance to remove unproductive or unfit sheep. Sue Rider reports

FLOCKMASTERS must avoid the temptation to over-react to current drought conditions by over-feeding ewes in the run up to tupping.

This was the message of ADAS sheep specialists at a MAFF-sponsored Culling and Preparation for Tupping demonstration at Thrift Farm, Royston, Herts.

"It is surprising how dry ewes will maintain condition on fairly bare pasture so dont panic – the ewes might be doing better than you think," said ADAS senior livestock consultant Elwyn Rees. He reminded producers that ewes were selective feeders and often able to pick quite good grass blades out of a sward that appeared to have little in it.

But it was important to watch that ewes did not lose condition at this time of year and to be prepared to offer supplementary feed up to tupping.

Ewe requirements would depend on condition score which should be checked at least eight weeks before tupping. Thin ewes (below score 2) and fat ewes (above score 4) would fail to perform to full ability.

Fat ewes at condition score 4-5 were not as prolific as those at score 3.5 and should be slimmed down and ideally housed for complete control of feed intake. But Mr Rees advised against penalising these ewes too much two weeks before they went to the ram.

"A reasonable amount of grass at 2-3cm will be adequate for ewes in good condition score (3-3.5) until three weeks before tupping," he said.

When no grass was available, straw alone, when offered ad-lib, would maintain a dry ewe. "It is important to offer the straw ad-lib for ewes are selective feeders and do pick out the most nutritious bits in the straw – that is how they maintain themselves on that forage," he said.

Most palatable solution

Ewes should not be made to eat all the straw – 25-30% waste should be expected. Wheat or barley straw were the best feeds, with spring barley, wheat and winter barley straw the most palatable in that order.

"Ewes in poor body condition (2-2.5) need to put on 8-9kg of liveweight before tupping," said Mr Rees. "They should be taking in 14 MJ/kg/head/day of energy and 70g/head/day of digestible crude protein."

This would be provided by good grass of 4-5cm height and ewes currently at condition score 2.5 would improve to 3.5 over seven weeks given such grass. But when there was no grass such ewes would require ad-lib straw (1.5kg/ head/day) and 0.4kg/head/day of a supplementary feed to improve condition.

It was important to continue supplementary feeding ewes for 6-8 weeks after mating to safeguard against embryo loss. "After that time ewes are more resilient and can afford to lose a bit of condition," he said.

Possible supplementary feeds included whole barley, wheat, and oats. These did not need to be processed as ewes were very efficient at using starch and whole grain. Alternative feeds, given the high price of cereals, included maize gluten and sugar beet pulp. &#42

ADAS livestock consultant Elwyn Rees: "Its surprising how dry ewes will maintain condition on fairly bare pasture…"