The last six weeks before lambing is the crucial window where sheep farmers can influence and improve lambing outcomes, so getting the nutrition right at this stage is essential in order to achieve peak performance at the best cost.
Knowing the nutritional quality of your forage is key to ensure the right amount of concentrate is fed, warns ForFarmers Ruminant Product Manager, Nick Berni. “We know that meeting the nutritional requirements of a ewe in the lead up to lambing ensures that strong lambs are born, ready to be finished quickly and cost effectively, but formulating a pre-lambing feeding plan is not a case of doing the same thing every year,” says Nick. “The nutritional quality of your forage can significantly vary from year to year and this will affect how much, and what type of concentrate you need to feed. Take the time to test your forage and calculate your purchased feed requirements carefully. Remember that just as under-feeding can result in losses and weak lambs, feeding unnecessary concentrate soon eats into profits.”
“For example, big bale grass silage can vary hugely in Dry Matter (DM), energy, protein and NDF (fibre). When we looked back at 2016 silage values we found that the concentrate requirement of a ewe being fed silage of the best (top 25%) quality (57 % DM, 13.7 %DM protein, 10.6 MJ/KG DM energy and NDF 51 %DM) was 0.1kg/ewe/day less in the sixth week prior to lambing than one being fed bottom 25% quality silage (34 % DM, 10 %DM protein, 9.5 MJ/KG DM energy and NDF 61%DM).
“This resulted in feeding 0.25kg/hd/day of concentrate vs 0.35kg/hd/day. By the final week of pregnancy this disparity doubled to a 0.2kg/ewe/day difference (feeding 1.0kg/hd/day for top 25% silage and 1.2kg/hd/day for bottom 25% forage quality). This adds up to a considerable difference per ewe over the entire pre- and post-lambing period.
“Where forage quality is poorer, as well as feeding more, additional protein may be required too, and may require, for example, moving up to a 20% concentrate,” he adds.
For some farmers, home-mixing cereals can be a good way to reduce feed costs, but again, getting the diet wrong can be costly if it doesn’t meet the nutritional requirements of the ewes. Nick recommends that rations are well balanced and supplemented with additional protein, digestible fibre as well as vitamins and minerals to ensure ewe performance and lamb health isn’t compromised:
“Getting protein levels right is crucial for a successful lambing,” explains Nick. “Protein stimulates lamb growth and milk production and is needed in greater quantities for multiple lambs and where forage quality is poor. These situations increase a ewe’s rumen degradable protein (ERDP) and bypass their Digestible Undegraded Protein (DUP) requirements.”
Vitamin supplementation is also recommended, especially vitamin E which is important for lamb vigour. In term of minerals, calcium supplementation will help prevent hypocalcaemia and magnesium will reduce incidences of hypomagnesaemia at grass. Trace elements such as selenium, cobalt, and iodine are important to help improve lamb health whilst zinc supplementation will reduce the risk of mastitis and lameness in ewes.
Nick concludes: “As with any enterprise, it’s the attention to detail which can make all the difference. A little bit of forward planning in terms of nutrition, could have a significant impact on the health of your ewes and lambs this spring.”