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Ewe nutrition and reproduction

Seasonal challenge Seasonal challenge21-9-2020

Getting the nutrition right in the run up to tupping is an important step in ensuring a successful mating season.

Depending on the breed, aim for ewes to be around body condition score (BCS) 2.5-3.5 at the start of tupping. Beginning around ten weeks prior to tupping, BCS should be continually assessed, with ewes split into three groups (thin, fit, and fat). The needs of each of these three groups should be taken into account when planning pre-tupping nutrition.

Pregnant ewes

Improving body condition score

Ewes in ‘thin’ group need particularly close attention in terms of nutrition. To increase by 0.5 BCS, ewes will need to consume an additional 3.5 MJ/day. Therefore, they should be given access to the best grazing and provided with supplementary feed if necessary.

There are several options for supplementary feeding including:

  • Conserved forage - good quality hay or silage
  • High energy supplements – at least 12 MJ/kg DM, with ewes fed 0.25-0.50 kg/day
  • Whole cereals – such as barley or oats, with ewes fed no more than 0.2-0.5 kg/day
  • High-energy feed blocks

Flushing

Flushing ewes in the final three weeks before tupping can help to boost ovulation, increase oestrus expression, and improve subsequent scanning rates. Flushing involves feeding ewes on an increasing plane of nutrition, particularly focusing on increasing the energy and protein levels in the diet.

It is important to remember that flushing will not have an impact on ewes with either extremely high or extremely low BCS, and so should not be used as a ‘quick fix’.

Trace elements

Ewe trace elements

Although needed in very small quantities, deficiencies in certain trace elements can impact on fertility.

Cobalt plays a key role in egg development and in the development of the early foetus. Supplementation of cobalt can also result in ewes giving birth to more active lambs.

A lack of Selenium can have an impact on reproductive performance, with increased risk of early embryonic death, and so ewes should be supplemented if there is a deficiency. Although copper deficiency can limit fertility, excess copper can be toxic and so supplementary copper should only be given if advised by a vet.

Although not directly related to fertility, supplementation with zinc can improve hoof quality. This will help ensure that both ewes and rams stay sound during tupping, increasing the likelihood of a successful mating season.

Finally, it is also important to ensure that ewes are not receiving too much phosphorus as this can increase the risk of embryo loss.

Ram nutrition

Don’t forget ram nutrition in the run up to tupping. Rams should enter tupping at BCS 3.5-4.0 and so for six to eight weeks prior to tupping rams should be fed a high-quality protein supplement (16%). Not only will this improve their general condition, but it can also improve semen production.

Supplementary selenium can also help improve sperm quality, however this should only be used if there is a deficiency on farm.

For more information

To find out more about our ewe minerals and buckets please click here.

Our team are here to help with nutritional and forage advice. Please contact your local Account Manager, alternatively you can send us an online enquiry here.