14 February 1997

Feeding less straw cuts prolapses fast on one Bucks unit

By Emma Penny

REDUCING the amount of straw fed to heavily pregnant ewes cut prolapse losses overnight on one Bucks unit.

Brian Rumbold, who farms 60ha (150 acres) at Bryerley Springs Farm near Bletchley, and rents a further 50ha (124 acres), has just dealt with 25 prolapses – which led to the death of four ewes – among his 370-ewe January lambing flock.

"I finish lambs intensively and so a plentiful milk supply is vital. This year we changed ewe rations and rather than let the ewes drop condition mid-pregnancy they came in at housing at average condition score 3.5-4."

The change in diet – from a silage-based ration to straw – was forced upon Mr Rumbold as several dry years made it impossible to make silage and graze ewes and the lambs from his 190-ewe March lambing flock. But as about 46ha (115 acres) of winter wheat is grown on the farm, straw is readily available.

"Last year, ewes were fed ad lib silage and up to 0.9kg concentrate a day. This year, with the change to straw I was anxious to encourage good colostrum quality and milk yield." Twin carrying ewes received 3kg straw a day and 1.4kg of a 21% protein, 13 ME concentrate roll fed twice a day in the straw, while singles received about two-thirds of the ration.

"The ration performed well until about two weeks before lambing when the prolapses started. We had 25 ewes prolapse and lost four."

Mr Rumbold reckons too much bulk was to blame and reduced straw intake to 1.2-1.5kg straw a head a day fed only once a day.

"This stopped the ewes gorging themselves, and the problem disappeared overnight. And there did not appear to be an adverse effect on colostrum quality from the reduction."

Next season, Mr Rumbold plans to cut the amount of concentrate fed with the straw to 1.1kg a head a day offered in two feeds. "I will also allow the ewes to lose some condition mid-pregnancy."

Brian Rumbold… he has adjusted ewe rations to reduce prolapse risk and safeguard lambing percentages.