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Sunday 4 December 2016

Monitoring feeding is essential at critical period for lambing flocks

Published 23/11/2010 | 05:00

For farmers with early lambing flocks due to lamb down in the Christmas/ New Year period, the next few weeks are a critical time, particularly in relation to feeding. Correct nutrition during this period can reduce production costs and labour requirements while increasing lamb birth weight and viability.

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In twin-carrying ewes around 70pc of the lamb's growth takes place in the last six weeks of gestation. Consequently, the nutrient requirements of the ewe increases by 60pc for twin-bearing ewes in the final six weeks of pregnancy. For twin-carrying ewes on medium quality roughage (68-70pc DMD silage) concentrate feeding should start at 0.1kg/ewe/day eight weeks before lambing, and increased by 0.1kg weekly to have ewes consuming 0.8kg/day one week from lambing. Single-carrying ewes need to be fed with caution to avoid producing oversized lambs resulting in lambing difficulties. Generally, ewes carrying single lambs can be limited to 0.5kg/ewe/day of concentrate for the last four weeks of pregnancy. For triplets, increase the twin feeding recommendations by 20pc. In all cases, watch ewe condition carefully and adjust the feeding rate accordingly.

For prolific flocks, the concentrate should be formulated to contain 19pc crude protein. Soyabean is the best quality protein source available and, consequently, it should contribute a large proportion of the protein in concentrate offered to ewes in late pregnancy. Concentrates offered to ewes in late pregnancy should contain high quality energy (barley, wheat), digestible fibre (sugar beet pulp, citrus pulp, soya hulls) and protein (soybean, rape meal, distillers) sources.

The main health problems during late pregnancy are twin lamb disease and prolapse, both of which can be avoided. In the case of twin lamb disease, the problem is that the ewe's diet is not providing her with enough energy to carry her lambs and maintain her own body.

To reduce the incidence of prolapse, avoid sudden changes in the diet and make sure the diet is well balanced for energy, protein and minerals. Overcrowding, particularly at feeding troughs, must be prevented. Allow 45cm (18") per ewe of trough feeding space for concentrates.

Ewes should be used to eating forage and be fed the concentrate outdoors prior to housing to avoid unnecessary problems.

Check and treat infected ewes for foot rot and footbath all the flock two weeks before housing. At housing any ewes that are still lame should be segregated into a separate pen to avoid foot rot spread indoors. Lame ewes can be treated with a long acting antibiotic and run through the footbath regularly.

The ewes should also be segregated according to litter size, with twins, triplets and singles fed accordingly.

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In early lambing flocks, where mating is synchronised, the flock will lamb down over an eight to 10-day period. The recommendation is to have one lambing pen for every four twin-carrying ewes.

Consider how best to arrange your lambing pens, with easy access from the main pens to the lambing units. This will reduce the labour for you and the manual handling of the ewe. Consider where water facilities can be arranged to share between pens to save carrying buckets or where they can be filled with a hose.

In mid-season lambing flocks, winter shearing can increase intake per ewe by 10pc, drive up birthweight by 0.5kg per lamb and reduce the lying space required per ewe by around 20pc. Make arrangements to winter shear ewes a few days after housing. Some farms that sheared over the Christmas period last year suffered ewe losses due to the extremely low temperatures. With wool prices up to €1/kg this year, shearing will not be an extra cost for a change. Most ewes will yield around 3kg of fleece and it will cost the equivalent of 2kg of fleece to shear.

Irish Independent