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Time to get ready for lambing

Whilst some sheep producers have already started or even completed lambing, for many the start of the New Year signals a final warning that lambing time will soon be upon them.

To ensure the best outcomes this lambing season, it is important to be prepared and have the right nutrition in place to help properly support ewe performance in the weeks leading up to lambing.

Ewe health

To ensure good lambing percentages this year, make sure that you are adequately supporting ewe health and performance in the eight weeks prior to lambing. With 75% of total lamb growth occurring during this period, a ewe’s energy supplies will be severely stretched and if they are not properly supported, the consequences can be lamb losses (55% of all lamb losses take place due to poor nutrition during this period), or weak, poor performing lambs at birth. 

As the lamb foetus grows rapidly in the last few weeks prior to lambing, it puts increasing pressure on the ewe’s rumen and reduces rumen size; suppressing a ewe’s feed intakes by as much as 30%. At a time when a ewe is in the greatest need for extra feed and energy, she is unable to eat enough. If this situation is not managed properly it can lead to a dangerous energy deficit, whereby more energy is being expended to support lamb growth and maintenance of the ewe, compared to the amount of energy entering a ewe’s system.

This potentially dangerous situation is exacerbated by the added energy demands posed by ewe udder development during the pre-lambing period; placing extra strain on a ewe’s energy requirements as she prepares to produce high levels of milk and colostrum for her young.

Time to get ready for lambing - ewe's eating

Feeding ewes

To avoid damaging energy deficits occurring in ewes, it is vital to feed them with high energy concentrates during the close-up, pre-lambing period to ensure that the limited feed a ewe consumes will have a high enough energy density to meet her energy requirements. Through the targeted use of concentrates, sheep producers can ensure that the maximum amount of energy is going into lamb growth and supporting ewe maintenance.

Concentrate feeding rates will vary significantly from farm to farm, depending on the quantity and quality of forage that producers are able to provide their ewes in the run up to lambing. The quality and availability of forage provided to ewes is likely to be highly variable at this time of year and this variability will heavily influence the amount of extra energy/concentrate that ewes will have to be supplemented with, in order to maintain a positive energy balance.

In research carried out by ForFarmers, we found significant differences in concentrate requirements for ewes being fed the top 25% of analysed big bale silage compared to those fed the bottom 25%. According to our figures, over the course of six weeks before lambing, a ewe being fed lower quality silage would require nearly 7kg more in total concentrate supplementation compared to a ewe being fed higher quality forage.

Weeks prior to lambing 6 4 2 0
Top 25% of big bale grass silage 18% concentrate (kg/day)
Twin bearing ewe (feeding rate) 0.25 0.40 0.65 0.80
Bottom 25% of big bale grass silage 18% concentrate (kg/day)
Twin bearing ewe (feeding rate) 0.35 0.60 0.90 1.20

As well as feeding appropriate levels of concentrate, increasing the quantity of high-quality protein in a ewe’s diet is also advisable in the six weeks prior to lambing. Rumen degradable protein (ERDP) will help to balance poor forage quality and maximise forage digestion, whilst by-pass protein (DUP), will support the production of high-quality colostrum and higher milk yields.

By including both types of protein in the diet sheep producers will help support lamb growth and a ewe’s production of high-quality milk and colostrum; all of which will help increase lamb survival rates and lamb performance post-birth.


Vitamins, minerals and trace elements shouldn’t be overlooked during the pre-lambing period either, with several supplements playing an important role in supporting ewe health and performance.

Vitamin E and Selenium have both been shown to have a positive influence on lamb vigour and survival rates, and calcium will help prevent hypocalcaemia pre-lambing, whilst magnesium will prevent hypomagnesium (‘staggers’), post lambing. To help reduce the risk of hypothermia, supplement ewes with iodine and use zinc to stop ewes developing mastitis and lameness problems. Cobalt can also encourage lambs to stand and suckle, which helps with early milk/colostrum intakes and therefore promotes early lamb growth gains.

The pre-lambing period is a challenging time for a ewe, but by managing her nutritional requirements correctly, sheep producers can support ewes through this difficult period and enable them to produce healthy, vibrant lambs with good growth potential.  

More information

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