Nutrition in Pregnant Ewes - are we doing them justice?
Late pregnancy is a critical time for nutrition in ewes. During the last 8 weeks of pregnancy lambs put on 70% of their weight and this puts a huge metabolic strain on a ewe. If we get feeding wrong at this time it can have devastating effects.
For example, an outbreak of twin lamb disease (pregnancy toxaemia) can result in huge lamb losses and ewe deaths, which is not only demoralising but also hugely costly. With the difference between profit and loss being so small, here are a few ideas as to how we can reduce the risk of nutritional disasters in the lead up to lambing:
- Attention to detail
- Are you providing fresh food at least daily? If the feed is spoiled or mouldy, in the worst case there is a risk of Listeriosis which can cause abortion and ewe fatalities, in the best case the spoiled feed will affect feed intake which is so vital during this period, which is still not ideal.
- Are you providing ad lib fresh water? If not, ewes will not eat as well; good water intakes ensure good feed intakes.
- Can your ewes access their food easily or is there competition for space when feeding? For ad lib forage feeding there must be 15cm feed space per ewe and for concentrate feeding (i.e. twice daily) there must be 45cm feed space per ewe.
- Scanning – this allows us to split ewes into groups according to litter size and then feed accordingly, matching the feeding with the metabolic demands of the ewe. In un-scanned flocks, ewes carrying singles may be inadvertently overfed and become fat, leading to conditions such as prolapse and lambing difficulties. Ewes carrying triplets in these flocks are likely to be underfed, leading to problems with twin lamb disease, poor lamb survival and low milk production.
- Body condition scoring. This is something that you can do on farm – ask your vet if you would like some more guidance. This will allow you to monitor how your sheep respond to the way you feed and manage them throughout the year, and will allow you to keep a particularly close eye on them leading up to lambing.
- Pre-Lambing Blood Testing. Metabolic profiling is an extremely cost effective way of allowing the ewe to tell us exactly how she is responding to her feed. Blood samples should be taken from up to 20 sheep when they are 2-3 weeks off lambing and at least 2 hours after a concentrate feed. If the ewes have been scanned we would split these samples over your different management groups (e.g. singles, twins, triplets and ewe lambs / gimmers). The test will give us information on the energy and protein status of each ewe as well as her trace element and mineral levels. The results might pick up a potential problem early on and allow us to make nutritional changes to avoid any disasters. The lab costs are just £120 for 20 sheep which is a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of inappropriate feeding across the whole flock.
This is just a short summary of what we can do to help support pregnant ewes in terms of their feeding, for more information or to book in any blood testing speak to your regular vet or give us a call on 01491 651 479