There are major variations in reports from farmers on current grass supplies.
Farmers on dry land who got plenty of chances to get fertiliser out in recent weeks are generally in an OK position and providing next week’s drop in temperatures does not last too long should see sufficient grass supplies remaining ahead of ewes and lambs.
The sharp contrast to this is farmers on marginal lands, many of whom have still not got an opportunity to get fertiliser applied or have only got a portion applied on their driest ground.
The lambing date and grass demand is having a big influence on these farms, with those who lambed in early March looking at the possibility of grass supply challenges coming down the line if growth rates do not improve.
It is important that such flocks take steps to conserve and ration remaining supplies, while there may still be time to do so.
Ewes in good body condition can generally be supplemented with 0.8kg to 1.2kg of concentrates (offered in two feeds), which in turn will reduce grass demand by 40% to 50%.
Ewes in poor body condition will need a higher allocation.
Where ewes are lambed six to seven weeks and have reached peak milk yield, then there will be a greater economical return from offering lambs creep feed if feasible.
The focus should be to avoid a situation of allowing grass supplies to become entirely depleted, as this will only result in a longer recovery process. Supplementation rates for a number of scenarios are outlined in Table 1.
It is important that farmers walk the farm regularly to keep a good gauge on grass supplies. Establishing grazing groups is also an important practice that will be vital in managing grass in the weeks ahead.
Next week’s forecasted change in weather will create challenges for later-lambing flocks that are only getting into peak activity.
For farmers retaining ewes and lambs indoors, feeding levels will be influenced by the stage of lactation, forage quality and ewe condition, along with the projected length of the feeding period.
It is important not to overfeed ewes in the first 24 hours after lambing, as this can put ewes off their feed.
Lower levels of supplementation can be fed, as per Table 1, for the first week after lambing, but, after this, feeding levels should be increased in line with an increasing feed demand of ewes.
Supplementation rates for ewes and lambs released outdoors will be influenced by grass supplies and ground conditions.
Where utilisation levels are poor or the dry matter of the grass is low, supplementary feeding will deliver a response, despite ewes having sufficient grass supplies.
In a case such as this, feeding levels can be targeted at similar levels to those listed in Table 1 for scarce grass supplies.
The high demand for protein in the final two weeks of pregnancy continues and actually increases in early lactation.
Where ewes are supplemented indoors, it is important to continue to feed an 18% to 20% nut or ration.
Where ewes are supplemented on average to limited grass supplies, it may be worth continuing to offer a similar feed as in late pregnancy, as the overall saving in feeding a lower protein content feed will be small.
On better-quality grass supplies, the protein content can be reduced to 14% to 16%.
Feeding troughs should also be placed in the drier areas of the field, with ewes fed early in the day and before nightfall to minimise the risk of mis-mothering and give ewes and their lambs time to find shelter.