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Economise on Ewe Feeding with Care and Precision
16/01/08

Most English flocks should be able to make worthwhile economies in their ewe feeding this winter to help offset escalating feed prices.

herdwick ewe and lamb

But, warns the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), these must be achieved through greater feeding precision rather than across-the-board reductions in late pregnancy supplementation if they are not to do more harm than good.

With ewe appetite declining by around 30% in the last six weeks of pregnancy at just the time 70% of foetal growth is occurring, it is all too easy to under-feed ewes unless sufficient levels of relatively nutrient dense supplementary feeds are provided. And under-feeding in the run-up to lambing is invariably damaging. As well as low birthweight lambs and poor lamb vigour, it can easily lead to low levels of colostrum production, poor colostrum quality, reduced mothering ability and milk production problems in early lactation.

Indeed, poor ewe nutrition is directly or indirectly responsible for nearly 50% of the causes of lamb mortality. When the role of concentrates as carriers for essential minerals and vitamins like selenium, cobalt and Vitamin E as well vital supplementary sources of energy and protein is taken into account, the importance of adequate late pregnancy feeding cannot be under-estimated.

Be that as it may, there are a number of ways in which concentrates can be used more effectively at this time. These primarily revolve around accurate feed analysis, a good understanding of ewe requirements and regular body condition scoring.

Accurate analysis of both the forage and concentrate feeds available will avoid unnecessary as much as insufficient supplementation, allowing savings to be made in many cases.

Equally, since many single-bearing ewes require little if any additional concentrate feeding – in contrast to those bearing twins or triplets – scanning and grouping ewes by litter size as well as expected lambing date can yield further valuable concentrate savings.

Body condition scoring throughout pregnancy – and in the latter stages, in particular – is very valuable in both monitoring and fine-tuning feeding. As a rule, ewes should lamb at BCS 3 and feeding should be designed to ensure they lose no more than 0.5 units of body condition in the final six weeks.

Blood testing a sample of late pregnancy ewes can also be useful, with beta-hydroxybutyrate levels providing a good indicator of how much body fat ewes are mobilising and, therefore, the adequacy of their diet.

Practical advice on ewe feeding is provided in the easy-to-read Target Ewe Management for Better Returns manual and other Sheep Better Returns Programme materials available free of charge to English levy payers from EBLEX on 0870 2418829 or by e.mailing info@eblex.org.uk. More detailed feeding information and guidance can be obtained through the interactive Lamb Action for Profit website resource at www.eblex.org.uk.

link Rare Breeds Watchlist Update 2008
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link UK Sheep Breeding Stock Exports Resume

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