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Sheep farmers are being reminded to prioritise ewe nutrition before lambing to optimise productivity and reduce losses.

Sheep farmers are being reminded to prioritise ewe nutrition before lambing to optimise productivity and reduce losses.

SAC Consulting held three webinars in the run-up to the lambing season. They included advice from farmers, sheep specialists and vets on ways to maximise lamb crops in indoor and outdoor systems. 

The Lamb Crop 2022 webinars examined the importance of regularly condition scoring ewes to gauge nutrition levels – and analysing forage to understand how supplementary feeding can meet energy shortfalls.

Condition scoring

Nutrition can make the greatest contribution to lambing success, says heep specialist Poppy Frater. “Fat reserves on the ewe are indicative of her health and have been shown to influence rearing success,” she explains.

Farmers are encouraged to assess flock conditions frequently to build confidence in a scale from 1 to 5 that suits their flock. At lambing, the target condition score is 3 for lowland flocks, 2.5 for upland flocks and 2 for hill flocks. 

Ewes below a condition score of 2 at weaning tend to have lower scanning percentages. As the same time, farmers lambing outdoors should wean earlier – to ensure ewes achieve a better condition score before the winter.

Rising feed and fertiliser costs mean basing more nutrition around grass could be where the future lies in sheep farming, says Ms Frater. But it is important to rest grass through the winter to ensure spring grass yield.

Resting lambing paddocks can be achieved by using rotational grazing, feeding silage or hay, and grazing on forage crops. But remember that a  week-long transition period can help ewes adapt to different forages.

Energy buckets and licks can be useful – especially in the hill situations – but they are designed to complement grass, not replace it, says Ms Frater.

Energy buckets often only provide 1-2MJ of energy and a 60kg ewe requires 16MJ of energy pre lambing. They supplement grass and help act as a bit of insurance but Ms Frater says they are an expensive and challenging way to meet the majority of energy requirements.

Energy shortfall

“It is important to understand the quality of your silage as this will influence how much energy you get from silage, and you can be more strategic in understanding what concentrate is required to meet that energy shortfall.”

Supplementary concentrates can help mitigate any negative impact on rumen pH. But again they should be introduced slowly, starting with no more than 0.25kg and increasing by 50-100g per day.