Extra nutrition could help avoid poor lambing
By Jeremy Hunt
KEEPING a close watch on ewe nutrition over the coming months, following disruption to traditional tupping time, grazing patterns or stock movements, could avoid a low lambing percentage.
The next eight weeks will be critical as rams are turned out and with delayed tupping on many lowland farms. Advisers are, therefore, urging flockmasters to carefully monitor ewe condition and grass availability.
Midlands-based ADAS nutritionist Kate Phillips says the impact of foot-and-mouth on normal husbandry practices and stock movements in the run up to tupping time could have affected ewes in several ways.
"Flocks may suffer from hidden signs of the disruption they have suffered over recent months and may not come into breeding condition as quickly as usual." She, therefore, advises careful monitoring of ewe condition.
"Some hill flocks could see a more protracted lambing next spring, as the breeding profile across the flock may be erratic this autumn and ewes may not cycle quite so readily," says Mrs Phillips.
She hopes that producers prevented from moving flocks on to better pasture before tupping will have already introduced some supplementary feed.
"Additional feeding is a dilemma this season; when its offered now to help ewes at tupping time it will be necessary to continue feeding for some time to maintain placental development and embryo survival.
"It may prove expensive, but the breeding performance of hill sheep this year is a priority as producers make every effort to rebuild flocks lost through F&M."
Mrs Phillips says feed blocks, whole barley, sugar beet nuts or hay/silage are suitable feed options.
In some areas forage is plentiful, but farms hit hard by movement restrictions and with low forage stocks may have to consider alternatives. "When comparing the dry matter cost of whole barley with silage there is actually little difference.
"At £80/t whole barley works out at £93/t dry matter. Big bale silage is similar at about £87/t of dry matter."
She says the biggest risk to a flocks breeding performance this year is a sudden check in nutrition – possibly caused by the withdrawal of supplementary feeding after tups have been taken out.
Ray Keatinge, head of ADAS Redesdale, in Northumberland, says the units 3000 hill ewes, predominantly Scottish Blackface, are in good condition.
"That seems to be the general situation in the north east. But in other regions, where flocks have suffered through restricted grazing, it will be important to consider the dietary requirements over this critical breeding season," says Mr Keatinge.
"Its vital to maintain a level feed intake for 50 days after conception. However, that does not mean 50 days from the day the tups went in, because there will be a staggered mating period.
"Ewes can lose a little condition in mid-pregnancy without suffering any adverse effect on lambing percentage or lamb birth weights, but the two months after tupping are very important."
Feed blocks providing 150-250g a day are a convenient way of maintaining energy intakes. Alternatively, sugar beet nuts could be offered at 0.25-0.4g/day.
Mr Keatinge also warns against suddenly withdrawing supplementary ewe feeding this winter.
"Its important to remember that tupping could be long drawn out and that ewes tupped late may continue to need some extra feed to ensure that the placenta develops properly.
"If that development is affected by a check in nutrition the viability of the developing embryo is at risk."
Mr Keatinge says hill ewes should be in condition score 2.5-2.75 at tupping time. But he advises taking special care of younger and older sheep this season.
"The disruption to traditional shepherding may have had an impact on younger ewes which were suckling lambs this summer and they may be later coming into breeding condition.
"Shearlings which are being bred from for the first time, but are not used to additional feed, may need some coaxing to ensure they actually take it.
"At the other end of the scale, there are older ewes that would traditionally have been sold but have been retained for breeding. Their feed requirements should also be closely monitored." *
It may be necessary to supplement ewes during and after tupping this year, says Ray Keatinge (inset).
• Monitor body condition.
• Supplement when necessary.
• Young and old may need additional care.