Should I feed my ewe post lambing? A question that I regularly get asked. My reply is always, “yes definitely, would you expect a high yielding dairy cow to milk on hay?” and modern ewes are much the same.
When scientists were starting to get their heads around the best ways to feed dairy cows during lactation, some of the earliest models were based on research conducted on sheep. After all they are only small ruminants, just like a cow. Granted that today’s Holstein is a different animal to that of the British Friesians of old, nevertheless the early principles are the same.
So when considering your post lambing strategy think about your ewes as if they were high yielding dairy cows and treat them with the same respect and thought.
So, when feeding ewes post lambing there are a few things I think you should consider: –
- Pre-lambing nutrition, Body condition score (BCS).
- Meeting post-lambing energy and protein requirements.
- Having a Plan B (especially for early lambers).
- Plan and measure for the ultimate performance.
My biggest point to make is the first one. Considering how you have fed you ewes pre-lambing will dictate how they perform post-lambing.
The main thing to remember is that if your ewes have a major nutritional challenge in their third trimester of pregnancy this will affect the ewes’ energy partitioning post-lambing. If you maintain nutrition steadily up to lambing, her body is not under any doubt that the environment she is in will happily supply enough food to sustain her and her lambs. We can monitor this through BCS and dietary planning both pre- and post-lambing.
Secondly, meeting post lambing energy and protein requirements is key. I will often say that energy is ALWAYS the first limiting factor. Not enough energy and the rest is a waste of time. Anything that lactates requires lots of energy and the more energy, the more milk. The better the quality of protein provided, the better quality the milk and the colostrum. This is the same both pre- and post-lambing. I would highly recommend testing colostrum, either with your vet, or it can be arranged through Crediton Milling.
Ewes will produce milk according to demand i.e., the more lambs drawing milk, the more the ewe will produce, so if the demand is high and the ewe doesn’t have enough energy supply, the more body fat she will mobilise to meet that demand. It may be an idea to look to keep multiples in the same groups and feed them the best grazing, and/or supplement with silage and concentrate, just as you would pre-lambing.
Peak lactation for ewes is 3-4 weeks post lambing, ensuring that we supply enough nutrients at this stage is extremely important. Many ewes will go into a negative energy balance in the first weeks post-lambing due to restricted intakes. This voluntary feed intake in early lactation is only 10% more than the last weeks of pregnancy so it’s really important to look to an energy rich diet to ensure she has as many nutrients as possible to cope with the demands of lactation.
Plan grazing systems and make up shortfalls with concentrate where needed, having a chat with one of us will mean we can work out a plan with you to prevent BCS loss and try to optimise milk production.
Third, have a plan B. If you turn out ewes, and the grazing looks like it will run out, have an alternative plan; silage supplementation, concentrates etc. to ensure she doesn’t run out. A ewe can cope with short term insufficient nutrition, but any longer then 7-14 days, and the milk will not come back.
Finally, planning and monitoring. Planning we have covered but monitoring we haven’t. Weighing lambs as often as you can, or at least at 8weeks (I can almost hear the groaning from my desk), but it will keep you a step ahead and mean the changes can be made before anything goes wrong.
- Body condition scoring of ewes pre- and post-lambing to make sure we are supplying enough nutrients and amending plans for grazing and concentrate feeding.
- Scanning ewes to be able to feed according to number of lambs.
- Grass monitoring, if not yourself, but engaging your advisers to keep ahead of nutrition plans.
All these tools are very important to ensure you guys have as many lambs sold at the best possible weights.