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11th November 2012

Breeding ewes have very different nutritional requirements depending on the stage of pregnancy. Using simple management tools such as body conditions scoring every 2-3 weeks in the run up to lambing can help to ensure the ewe is fed correctly.   This is because body condition reflects the ewe’s body reserves, which can directly affect conception rate, litter size and lamb vigour. By accessing changes in BCS we can make changes in our feeding and management early enough to avoid the major problems associated with twin lamb disease and poor colostrum quality. 

To condition score the ewe, handle her over and around the back bone in the loin area behind the last rib.  At mid pregnancy you want a lowland ewe to be BCS 3 and she should maintain this through to lambing.

After the ewe has been served, the egg does not attach to the uterus for about 3 weeks and is therefore vulnerable to any stress such as handling or poor diet.  Hence, it is important that there are no sudden dietary changes at this point in pregnancy BCS should have been between 3-3.5 at tupping and this needs to be maintained until the high risk period for the .  A level plane of nutrition should be maintained for 3 weeks after the Ram has been removed and, if grass levels or quality are poor (less than 5cm), should include supplementary feeding to ensure enough energy, protein and certain minerals are provided.  Adequate feeding at the early stage pregnancy maximises your scanning percentage. In mid pregnancy the ewes can be allowed to lose a little condition, no more than 0.5 of a condition score. This stimulates the placenta to develop to its maximum potential and will make a big difference in late pregnancy when twin or triplet lambs need to extract as much nutrition as possible from their dam..  Feed ewes at this stage to maintain a BCS of at least 2.5. 

During late pregnancy, about 70% of fetal growth occurs.  Poor nutrition at this stage can result in inadequate colostrum production, low birth weight and lower energy reserves and as a result increased death in lambs, especially if weather is cold and wet during outdoor lambing and increased losses to diseases such as watery mouth, redgut, rattle belly and joint-ill in indoor lambing flocks.  Although underfeeding will result in low birth rates, over feeding is an expensive mistake, wasting money on unnecessary purchased feed and can result in obesity and contribute to issues at lambing time, so correct nutrition is vital.  Six weeks prior to lambing, the ewe’s energy requirements are dramatically increased and if she is carrying multiple lambs, The problem is that a large uterus full of lambs limits the capacity of the rumen and therefore how much the ewe can eat.  Thus, energy and protein is often provided in the form of concentrate feeding.    It is important that ewes are also fed a good quality hay or silage and that the diet is formulated to supplement the forage rather than feeding a fixed amount of concentrate regardless of the quality of the forage. Analysis of your forage is essential if you want to avoid under or over-feeding.  Because concentrates are very palatable ewes will always eat them in preference to forage so many farms fall into the trap of substituting concentrates for forage rather than supplementing the forage. The difference in cost per ewe on similar farms is often £5-8 per ewe! Well-made silage or hay can provide far more of the ewes requirements than many people have become used to expect if they do not get it analysed.

By feeding the ewe well in the run up to lambing you will ensure you have fit, healthy lambs, ewes with a good source of colostrum and milk. You will have fewer stillbirths and will also prevent diseases such as pregnancy toxaemia (twin lamb disease).  Pro-Ovine membership provides you with forage analysis  and ration formulation as well as advice on trace elements and how to feed to achieve maximum dry matter intakes and the best results.


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