The start of the Ovine production year

Is flushing ewes a thing of the past? As many farmers will say flushing ewes pre and during tupping to increase cycling is a common practice. With better management of sheep and grazing, along with modern techniques such as sponging, use of teasers and tup breading can, arguable, render the practise of flushing a thing of the past.

Ewe Body condition score BCS monitoring and management thought out the year to ensure body condition is maintained and varied at specific points is an important part of flock management and can have large beneficial effect to profitability and productivity of the flock.

The reproductive year of a Ewe starts just after the lambs are weaned. At this point it would be easy to shut ewes away and forget about them until tupping but I would suggest that this, like the dry period of Dairy cattle, is the optimum time for building condition if lost and setting ewes up for tupping and pregnancy. It can take one month and anything from 9 – 20 additional MJ of energy per day to gain 1 BCS, so leaving it until tupping to address any issues is too late.

At tupping ewes should be at a condition score of 2.5 – 3. Maintaining this score will mean the ewes reproductive system is prime for maximising lamb production. Ewes ovulation rates can be severely effected if BCS is less than 2 at tupping.

A Pre lambing ewe should be at a condition score of 3-3.5, which will allow for a drop of .5 of a condition score as she lambs and starts her lactation. During lactation the energy demand on the ewe will strip condition off her as she will struggle to meet this major increase is energy usage.

There is a school of thought that during the third trimester of pregnancy a small drop in condition can lead to placental growth and increase the thriftiness and ability of lambs to utilise food once born. This needs careful management so as not to cause issues with lamb development so should be well thought out before attempting.

Mineral status of ewes during tupping and pregnancy can have a bearing on the success of conception and then scanning. Minerals can be a tricky thing to get right, by far the best thing to do is to test ewes, forage and soils for minerals. This will build up a picture of the mineral status of your farm. It will also avoid costly over use of drenches, buckets or boluses chasing incorrect theories.

Studies conducted looking at mineral levels in ewes, indicate that a steady supply of essential minerals and trace elements such as Iodine, selenium, Vitamin E and Cobalt, to name a few, pre tupping continuing through to post lambing can, increase faecal attachment, increase lambing percentage, increase lamb vigour pre and post parturition, ensure optimum lamb immune system function and ensure consistently high lamb growth rates.

Grazing management will fall in with ewe feed management during this important part of the Ovine calendar. Using grass as the main part of the ewes feed management, to maintain or increase body condition, sustain mineral supply and set lambs up for premium growth rates is key to maximising profits from your sheep enterprise.

For example prioritising good grazing for ewes at a lower body condition score, building their BCS, regular weighing and regrouping as score improves. Working out a feed budget, banking grass to segregate into paddocks providing a consistent supply of quality nutrition through tupping and pregnancy will ensure ewes are kept in good condition and maximise flock efficiency.

For more information on sheep feeding this winter contact Joe Banks