Sheep producers should consider feeding ewes supplements to ensure ewes maintain the correct condition ahead of tupping, as wet weather threatens dry matter intake.
“There should be plenty of grass, but the ground is very wet so dry matter intake could be compromised,” warned Kate Phillips, sheep consultant from ADAS.
“If you end up with a lower DM intake ewes will have a declining level of energy and if they loose weight during tupping it is likely they will ovulate fewer eggs.”
Ms Phillips said in some areas of the country worst hit by torrential downpours, DM could be down by as much as 15% and could lower body condition going into tupping.
“Condition score at tupping should be 2-3 for upland ewes and 3-3.5 for lowland ewes,” Ms Phillips advised.
“To achieve the correct daily dry matter intake ewes should be consuming 2-2.5% of their bodyweight.”
To prevent ewes losing condition Ms Phillips said farmers could supplement with dry forage to boost DM intake.
“At this time of the year you can make a big mess of the fields taking silage and hay to ewes, so some producers may prefer to put out feed buckets,” she explained.
John Vipond, SAC senior sheep consultant, said trials conducted by the SAC showed that high energy feed blocks could increase lambing percentage by 10% in hill flocks with low quality pastures.
He said these should be fed to flocks three weeks prior to tupping and over the tupping period to maintain energy levels.
“The cost of feed is a big concern, but if you weigh it up you’re looking at 28p/kg.
“If you feed a total of 15kg that’s roughly £4-5.
“But if that gives you 10% more lambs at an average of £80, then that’s worth £8, so you can still get a good return, even at today’s prices,” he explained.
Dr Vipond said body condition scoring was key to ensure ewes were at the correct condition pre-tupping.
“It is essential that farmers get their hands on the sheep because it appears that there’s a variation in BCS, which is only detectable by handling the loin area.
“Producers can then supplementary feed thinner ewes to correct inadequate condition.”
Trace element deficiencies
Ms Phillips said producers should also be wary of lower selenium levels as a result of the weather.
Lack of selenium in the diet is associated with poor reproductive performance and early abortion.
She said farmers should get blood samples taken now with the aim of correcting any mineral deficiencies 3-4 weeks prior to tupping.
“If levels are low farmers can act on those results and give ewes a bolus.”
Ms Phillips also urged producers to set protocols for lameness.
“Wet, warm and moist conditions stimulate foot-rot, while long grass causes scald, which makes sheep very lame and this will affect mating.”
Dr Vipond said producers should foot-bathe and ensure they let the sheep stand for one hour after treatment.
“Then return them to a fresh field via a different route or you will defeat the object.”
Dr Vipond said vaccination was also critical this year, with parasite burdens being much higher than previously.
“Fluke can knock lambing percentage down by 40%. If you haven’t already managed to get on top of vaccination now is the time to do it,” he urged.