This week, we look at nutrition options for ewes in the run-up to lambing. In the later stages of pregnancy, ewe energy requirement rises rapidly, while the space available in the stomach shrinks due to the growing lamb.
This means it is harder for the ewe to consume enough food for herself or her lamb at a time when grass growth rates could be very low.
If energy requirements are not met, then pregnancy toxaemia (twin lamb disease) is likely to strike.
In simple terms, if we assume that selling ewes with lambs at foot would earn around £60 per life on average, the value forgone of twin lamb disease in a flock that lambs at 180% is £168 per case.
At a 2% incidence rate, this comes in at £3.36 per ewe in the flock before knackery charges.
Further to this, if the flock is in a nutritional state where twin lamb disease is a problem, will they have sufficient energy to formulate the best quality colostrum and produce enough milk for their lambs?
Fiona Biffen of Arnage Farms near Ellon said: “We feed the sheep 18% ewe rolls for the six weeks before lambing. They have buckets out just now and depending on their condition, might get molasses licks in March. Last year, we only lost two or three ewes to twin lambs disease, as we ensured that the ewes had access to high-energy feeding in the six weeks pre-lambing.
“Grass growth is some way off just now, so we are feeding hay to the ewes and ewe lambs. We are keeping the groups separate, as we do not want older bully ewes taking feed from the ewe lambs.
“As well as hay, the ewes also have access to stubble turnips just now, while the ewe lambs are eating silage and fodder beet. Last year, we lambed everything inside and they were easy to put on to feed.
“Lamb losses were highest when we turned them out to grass last year. To tackle this, we are using feed just now to preserve grass for ewes and lambs to be turned out on to. We only have one chance to get the lactation right, so they need a good start on a good grass ley.
“The tups came out just before Christmas, so we will scan at the beginning of February. Once they are scanned, we will sort them into groups depending on the litter size they have.”
There are a variety of options when it comes to feeding pre-lambing.
Having silage that is of high enough quality can mean that ewes only need to be supplemented with 100g of soya per life carried per day. At current soya prices, this is less than 5p per ewe per day plus the cost of the silage. A twin-bearing ewe would be costing 10p.
Many would choose the same route as the Biffens. Feeding a good-quality roll means that the feed and minerals are all combined and the ewes should be getting a good start. However, some methods of feeding these can be labour intensive. With ewes eating 0.5kg a day, this will be costing 15p to 20p per ewe per day.
Some prefer to go down the route of feed blocks and buckets. These have a much greater level of convenience than the methods already detailed.
However, initial purchase price of the block or bucket is quite high per tonne. Having said that, intake is quite low and the cost tends to balance itself out to be less than the cost of rolls.
Some farmers may decide to feed their ewes a total mixed ration (TMR). This is a more likely option on farms where cattle are already being fed by a feeder wagon, as buying the equipment may be beyond some sheep enterprises.
With a base ration for twin-bearing ewes of 250g of molasses, 500g of barley and 200g of soya, costs are around 20p/day plus silage per ewe.
TMR feed will be more expensive than using ewe rolls, buckets or molasses, but it does a good job of preserving grass and can be a very efficient means of feeding a larger flock and help spread the cost of the feeder wagon across more heads.