By Jeremy Hunt
MARGINS for early lambing flocks have become tighter in recent years. Giving more thought to ewe nutrition could make all the difference.
The pre- and post-lambing dietary requirements of breeding ewes are different and rations must be adjusted accordingly, says independent nutritionist Gillian Butler.
"It is difficult to generalise because any feed recommendations must be based on forage quality but I would not advise the same diet to be fed to ewes pre- and post-lambing, even when more of the same diet is fed to lactating ewes," says Mrs Butler, who is based in Newcastle-on-Tyne.
She believes that 16% protein rations fed to in-lamb ewes can provide insufficient energy; an 18% concentrate is preferable. A 20%-22% protein content feed is recommended post-lambing.
"But even those guidelines must take careful consideration of forage and feed quality."
Mrs Butler says the metabolisable protein requirements for ewes vary before and after lambing. An in-lamb Mule ewe carrying twins requires 150g of protein a day compared with 300g a day after lambing if she is to produce the required 3 litres of milk needed to feed her lambs.
"The higher feed intake post-lambing may go some way to giving the metabolisable protein boost required but there could still be a shortfall which could have an adverse effect on milk yield. The key is supplying sufficient protein in an undegradeable form."
She advises sheep producers who are about to order feed to consider mixing their own rations which can be tailored to forage quality and more easily tweaked to meet dietary needs before and after lambing.
Producers using bought in concentrates should obtain as much information as they can about the constituents of their ewe feed.
"Fishmeal at 2-3% inclusion is insufficient. For a lactating ewe it needs to be considerably more than that, say 10%. For those who prefer to use one of the fishmeal alternatives, prairie meal or protein extracted from potatoes are useful."
Mrs Butler says that adequate shelter is often overlooked for early lambing ewes and lambs turned out in January. "Additional shelter from prevailing winds, even made simply from straw bales, can make all the difference."
And she advises flockmasters to check the mineral content of bought-in concentrate feeds.
"The calcium and magnesium needs are different for ewes before and after lambing. Ewes can be at risk of calcium deficiency before lambing and magnesium deficiency after lambing, but if too much magnesium is fed pre-lambing it can predispose ewes to calcium staggers."
• Pre- and post-lambing rations.
• Base on forage quality.
• Obtain feed information.