Focus on ewe condition and forage energy value

Sheep producers can cut costs this winter by analysing forages and condition-scoring ewes – critical at a time when initial scanning results suggest there may be high number of triplets, according to sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings.

“Feeding correct nutrients for ewes’ maintenance is essential for lamb development and with initial scanning results showing higher-than-average triplet numbers, producers should be on guard,” she says.

Analysing forage will show producers its worth and they can then shop around for the most suitable concentrates. But Ms Stubbings warns that producers should not always be tempted by the cheapest product and should look at the feed’s cost per unit of energy rather than per tonne.

“Per unit of energy is the price that matters and the higher quality the protein and energy source is, the less feed will be needed,” she adds. “Extra input and careful management of ewes now mean they may not need to be fed quite so hard in early lactation.”

And after a few weeks of hard weather and not much food on the ground, providing additional forage or buying in supplementary feed is even more crucial for ewe maintenance, says ADAS sheep consultant Kate Philips.

“For ewes lambing in March and April, body condition scoring now is essential, aiming for a condition of three to three and a half for lowland ewes,” says Ms Philips.

Ms Stubbings warns that if ewes are losing condition, producers should find out the reason, because liver fluke could be a cause, with higher-than-average levels seen this season.

A fluke infestation and inadequate feeding before lambing can both have severe implications at lambing, with inappropriate feeding at mid-pregnancy affecting placenta development, resulting in small lambs. “Inadequate nutrition can also lead to uneven-sized lambs, poor growth of lambs and, closer to lambing, poor udder development and impaired immunity,” says Ms Philips.

As well as testing forage for nutrients, Ms Philips also suggests taking a small sample of blood to see if ewes are deficient in any vitamins, minerals and trace elements. “Often producers will offer mineral blocks even if there is no deficiency, so blood testing can save money in the long run,” she says.

DSM Nutritional Products’ Adrian Packington is concerned that farmers looking to save costs may settle for a lower level of vitamin E in ewe compound feeds, putting lamb survival at risk.

“Vitamin E is an essential nutrient for ewes and lambs and is closely associated with improved lamb performance,” he says. “But ewe diets are often deficient in vitamin E because they are commonly based on poor-quality forages, which are a poor source of vitamin E and, as a result of the poor growing season, problems may be more widespread this year.”

Mr Packington recommends ewes receive 100mg of vitamin E a day during late pregnancy, with compound feeds including vitamin E at 100-150-mg/kg.

Ms Philips also recommends those needing to supplement ewes’ diets to look at a number of options, including feed blocks at a rate of 0.2kg a day and molasses as cheaper sources of energy.