Farm Ireland

Monday 25 March 2019

Nutrition management of ewes during late pregnancy has a significant impact on profitability


During late pregnancy, nutrition management is key
During late pregnancy, nutrition management is key

Tim Keady and Alan Bohan

The energy requirement of single, twin and triplet-bearing ewes increase by 40, 60 and 70pc respectively during late pregnancy.

Management of the ewe during late pregnancy impacts on lamb weight and vigour at birth, and colostrum production by the ewe, all of which influence labour requirement around lambing and flock profitability. The data presented in this article is based on research undertaken in recent years at Athenry.

Concentrate levels

Dry matter digestibility (DMD) is the main factor influencing silage feed value. Each FIVE percentage unit rise in increases:

  • ewe weight post lambing by 6.5kg lamb birth weight by 0.26kg
  • Concentrate requirement of ewes during late pregnancy is influenced by silage feed value and expected litter size.

Targeting concentrate supplementation to ewes with larger litters ensures ewes have adequate colostrum and lambs are born at optimum weight which reduces lamb mortality.

The effects of silage feed value on the total concentrate requirement of twin-bearing ewes in late pregnancy are presented in Table 1.

The data presented in Table 1 clearly illustrates the importance of analysing silage prior to feeding it to pregnant ewes and prior to developing a nutrition plan for ewes in late pregnancy.

It is assumed that the silage is being offered using good feeding management, ie, ewes have access to fresh silage 24 hours daily and that any silage residue is removed twice weekly.

The concentrate requirements per ewe presented in Table 1 can be reduced by 5kg in the case of single-bearing ewes, while concentrate supplementation should be increased by 8kg for ewes carrying triplets.

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Concentrate feed levels should be stepped-up (increased) to meet ewes' energy and protein requirements, which increase rapidly during late pregnancy. Ewes should be grouped according to litter size (scanning) and expected date of lambing (raddle colour changed frequently during the breeding season indicates expected lambing date).

The daily concentrate feed levels to achieve different total concentrate intakes during late pregnancy are presented in Table 2.

For example, if your silage is 72 DMD, big baled and is being offered to twin-bearing ewes, the objective should be that the ewes consume 24kg concentrate prior to lambing. At six weeks prior to lambing, the ewes should be offered 0.4kg daily. For the week prior to lambing, the ewes would receive 0.9kg/ewe daily.

Concentrate composition

When purchasing a concentrate to offer ewes in late pregnancy, it is important to be aware of its ingredient composition. Concentrate purchasing decisions should be based on ingredient composition, and not on price alone.

The concentrate should be formulated to contain 19pc crude protein and good protein (soya, rapeseed), energy (maize, barley) and fibre (beet pulp, soya hulls) sources. The ingredient composition of the concentrate that I formulated for the ewes during late pregnancy at Athenry is presented in Table 3.

This year, the inclusion of maize meal has been increased due to the increase in its relative value compared to barley. The inclusion of barley has been reduced.

Dr Tim Keady and Dr Alan Bohan are based at Teagasc, Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Athenry, Co Galway. They are contributing to SheepNet, a European Knowledge Exchange network involving farmers, farmer organisations, scientists, advisors/consultants and vets from the six main sheep producing countries in the EU (Ireland, France, Italy, Romania, Spain and UK) and Turkey

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