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Thursday 19 July 2018

How to use scan results to plan ewe feeding regime

Michael Duffy with a batch of ewes that are all showing raddle marks
Michael Duffy with a batch of ewes that are all showing raddle marks

Damian Costello

Under the Sheep Welfare Scheme (€10/ewe) introduced last year the option of Management of Pregnant Ewes (Scanning) was a very popular choice with applicants.

The scheme requires firstly that scanning results are recorded and that a receipt and a copy of scanning results from the scanner must be retained and made available for inspection.

The receipt needs to show the date and the number of sheep scanned.  The results of the scan can be recorded on the receipt or alternatively the farmer himself/herself may record the results.

Secondly, ewes are to be grouped and managed post scanning in accordance with litter size. As scanning of March lambing ewes is currently in full swing, this article will look at ewe feed requirements in late pregnancy.

After scanning group ewes according to litter size when starting to feed concentrates. When your scanned litter size creeps over 2.0 then a significant percentage of ewes will be carrying 3 or more lambs.

The immediate priority for ewes carrying three or more lambs is an appropriate feeding regime to ensure that lamb birth weights approaching 4kg each is achieved. Smaller weak lambs, particularly in multiples, will lead to higher mortality levels.

Supplementary meal feeding of triplet or quad bearing ewes should commence 8 to 10 weeks before expected lambing date - in practice this is immediately after scanning.

Depending on ewe body condition and quality of forage available the level should rise to around 1kg per head per day (split into two feeds) in the weeks before lambing.

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As a rule of thumb twin bearing ewes are fed 30% less than triplet bearing ewes building up to a maximum of 0.8kg in the week before lambing. Commence concentrate feeding of ewes carrying twins 7 to 8 weeks before due date.

Feeding of single bearing ewes can be delayed a further few weeks and should be fed 30% less than those carrying twins up to a maximum of 0.5kg prior to lambing.

When silage quality is extremely poor, such as with a DMD in the low 60s or worse, higher levels of concentrates will be needed. Also assess body condition at this stage.

Where twin bearing ewes for example are in poor body condition it would be appropriate to feed them similar concentrate levels to the triplet bearing ewes.

The ewes feed requirements in late pregnancy is generally met by hay/silage and concentrates or grass and concentrates for outwintered sheep.

In theory the ewes energy requirements could be met with excellent quality (75 -80% DMD) silage or an adequate supply of spring grass with protein and mineral supplementation for the final 3 weeks pre lambing.

In practice most ewes are supplemented with concentrates along with average quality roughage (65 - 67% DMD). A representative silage sample analysis will allow you to decide how much and for how long you will need to feed concentrates.

In the last 3 weeks of pregnancy protein intake is most critical. At this stage the twin bearing ewe needs to take in 200 grams of protein per day. All feeds that the ewe eats contributes to this daily requirement but in terms of quality, soya is the best available.

Any good sheep ration or nut will have soya as its main protein source. The listing of ingredients on the feedstuff manufacturers label is in order of inclusion with the first listed being the biggest constituent.

Look for a nut or ration where soya bean is in the top three on the list to ensure plenty of top quality colostrum is available to your newborn lambs.

Always ensure sufficient trough space so that all ewes have room to eat meal at one time. For larger breeds up to 600mm per head is required. Concentrates should be fed twice daily when level exceeds 0.4kgs per ewe per day.

Plan for at least 8 hours between feeds to avoid digestive upsets and maximize overall feed intake.

Ensure that a constant fresh supply of clean water is available. Housed ewes on dry feed can consume as much as 6 litres of water per head per day in late pregnancy and even more after lambing. If water supply to the ewe is limited it can seriously suppress her appetite.

Damian Costello is a Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Unit

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