2013-04-08 xml
Advice to Sheep Farmers Facing No Grass Growth

Senior Sheep Consultant Dr John Vipond recognises the priorities and offers practical tips to sheep farmers.

With winter feed stores emptying and little sign of the grass growth normally expected at this time of year livestock keepers are getting anxious, especially those with sheep and lambs. An expert from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is advising a range of actions designed to maintain the health of their hard pressed ewes and the supply of milk to their lambs.


photo © farm-images.co.uk

Senior Sheep Consultant Dr John Vipond recognises the priorities:

“It is important ewes keep producing milk for their lambs and with so little grass to eat that means supplementary feeding with either expensive concentrates or stored silage. The key is to make it as easy for the sheep as possible, like bulking out silage with straw or presenting the silage on the ground rather than in feeders. In last year’s rush to get silage made between the showers the grass was often chopped into longer lengths than normal and is hard for ewes to pull it out from a silage bale.”

John Vipond regards Soya as an important additional protein feed to help keep milk flowing in these conditions. Ewes with twins or more will have used up their own body reserves just growing their lambs and must now rely on what they eat. He recommends adding at least 200 grams of soya per ewe per day to existing rations. When grass does get growing again scattering turnips or swedes on the field can boost energy and help keep the milk on the ewe.

“I also think farmers should use a Magnesium supplement”, he says. “Conditions this year mean a there is a high risk of sheep suffering from staggers through magnesium imbalance”.

The problems facing farmers don’t stop with the ewe. As the lambs grow bigger they too would normally be weaned onto the grass that is just not there. In highly productive flocks producing many triplets and twins the SRUC expert believes it is wise to feed the lambs concentrates now and get them off to a good start, rather than have to bulk up light lambs later in the year, when costs can be even greater.

“The practice of giving lambs access to extra feed the ewes cannot get to is well proven”, he argues. “If grass continues to be in short supply it is possible to wean lambs and continue this “creep feeding” to get lambs away to specialist European markets early.”

One other key challenge comes from the liver fluke parasite which has achieved epidemic proportions in the last two wet years. Eggs are dropped by infected sheep and parasiticic stages multiply inside water snails before re infecting grazing stock. With less grass available and the possibly of some fluke affected fields, farmers need flexibility.

John suggests fencing off the known fluke affected areas, leaving access lanes to make moving stock simple. In addition water troughs will help stop sheep drinking from the wet areas where the snails live.

He also recommends that farmers discuss with their vets the best medication to use against fluke at this time. With concerns about fluke developing resistance to some treatments it is important to us the correct regime.

Finally, looking forward to the period when the grass will eventually grow, John Vipond urges farmers to think hard about how best to utilise it properly. He believes rotating larger groups of sheep around several fields and leaving them bare when they move on, works well. It also improves the quality of the sward which, later in the season, can be used to finish more lambs.

“If weather conditions are suitable and equipment is available regenerating the pastures can be considered,“ he says. The exceptional weather events we have endured calls for management change. By being better informed about parasite status, ewe weight and condition change farmer are better placed to react. SRUC can help with advice on all these areas.”


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