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  • How to get lambing right? Ask the ewes!

    Posted on by Abii Dowdy

    The energy and protein requirements close to lambing can increase by 60%, putting ewes under a lot of strain. To meet this energy demand, we must get the nutrition right in the build up to lambing, otherwise metabolic issues such as twin lamb and hypocalcaemia can strike.

    In the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, the lamb growth rate peaks (over 70% of growth in this time frame), the udder is developing and colostrum production starting. Poor nutrition at this point will lead to metabolic disease in the ewe, plus low birth weights, reduced lamb survival, poor colostrum production and increased levels of mastitis.

     

    Steps to take now

    Forage analysis is highly recommended – this info can be used to formulate a ration that ensures ewes are getting sufficient energy and protein in their diet. If you have a range of forages remember to feed the best stuff last – giving them the best as lambing draws near and ewes have reduced intakes.

    Arrange blood sampling of the ewes 4 weeks prior to lambing to highlight concerns in the feeding regime before clinical signs are seen. This is close enough to lambing to provide an accurate picture, but allows enough time to make any necessary changes. If you scan your ewes, 5 ewes from the singles, twins and triplets should be screened. If the flock isn’t scanned, 15-25 ewes with varying body condition scores should be selected for sampling.

    A full profile costs £150 for up to 20 bloods to be analysed, plus the visit and time to bleed the sheep.

    What information will it provide?

    Energy levels – beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB)

    BHB is produced by the liver when sheep use fat stores to provide energy the diet
    is not providing. Ewes carrying twins and triplets are most at risk as they have a higher energy demand. Energy levels can be increased by increasing the volume of concentrates fed, adding high energy supplements or providing an alternative energy source.

    Protein levels – Urea Nitrogen and Albumin

    Protein is vital for lamb growth and producing high quality colostrum and milk.
    Blood urea nitrogen levels provide a snapshot of protein status at the current time, whilst blood albumin levels show longer term protein status.

    Mineral check – Magnesium and Copper
    A useful check of both of these vital elements at this important stage.

     

    Now what?

    Poor metabolic screen results do not necessarily mean the diet is wrong – all aspect associated with feeding must be looked at. A great diet won’t do much good if the ewes can’t access it! Feed faces should provide sufficient room for all ewes to feed at the same time to avoid sick or less dominant ewes being pushed out. Presentation is impor- tant too – feed spaces should be kept clean and dry and uneaten food should be cleared away before fresh food is put down. Finally ensure plenty of fresh, good quality forage is available ad-lib along with plentiful fresh water.

    See asking the ewes isn’t such a daft idea after all!