Lambing ahoy!


by Jill Hunter, Beef & Sheep Nutritionist

2023 saw the UK receive 111% of the average annual rainfall for the last 20 years and there aren’t many shepherds or shepherdesses in the country who wouldn’t have been glad of a new pair of wellies – or perhaps waders – from Santa Claus.

With recent wet weather and wintry conditions currently with us and in the forecast, forage availability is at the forefront of minds. A drop in body condition at this time of year is to be expected and doesn’t cause any harm, as long as ewes were tupped in decent condition and the drop in condition is gradual.

The second and third months of pregnancy are when the embryo is most vulnerable. It is at this time the embryo becomes implanted and the placenta starts to grow. If the lack of grazing means the ewe cannot meet her energy or protein demand, she may end up sacrificing her lambs, resulting in poor scanning results. If pregnancy does continue, lamb development may be impaired and lamb viability at birth will be poorer. We should also bear in mind the future fertility of the unborn ewe lambs can be affected at this stage.

Therefore, careful consideration should be given this year to ensure ewe requirements are being met. It may be as simple as supplementing with additional forage, although anecdotal stories would suggest ewes are dropping body condition more rapidly than ideal for this stage of pregnancy. In these cases, it is worth topping ewes up with a little compound feed or even a high energy feed bucket, such as Energyze Vitality. Traditionally, sugar beet pulp may have been fed at this stage, however the current cost of beet pulp and its availability make it a less desirable option. A small quantity of ewe compound will provide the extra nutrition required, along with the additional benefit of a dose of vitamins and minerals to help maintain pregnancy.

Target body condition score of low-ground commercial ewes

Thinking further ahead and into the last 6 weeks before lambing, we know 70% of lamb growth happens in this time. Not only is the lamb and fluid now restricting the size of the rumen, the ewe’s demand for protein and energy is also dramatically increasing, meaning feed must now be nutrient dense, high quality and beneficial to the health of the ewe and her lambs.

Trial work has shown the quicker a lamb stands and suckles, the better chance it has of survival. In one study where ewes were supplemented with omega 3 oils before lambing, the lambs were half as likely to die within the first two weeks of life. Furthermore, the inclusion of Sel-Plex selenium has been shown to increase lamb survival by helping to increase shivering, mobilisation of brown fat and production of quality colostrum, all of which help the lamb to produce heat, stay warm and ward off hypothermia. The clever part about feeding Sel-Plex is the selenium ends up in the colostrum and milk, where traditional selenium sources wouldn’t. This means the lamb benefits from better quality colostrum, getting it off to the best start.

Omega 3 and Sel-Plex have such an impact on lamb survivability, meaning they are both included across the Harbro range of ewe feed and Energyze Vitality lick buckets.

Lamb get up and go is essential to increase chance of survival

Not only is it important what is fed pre-lambing, it’s also important how it is fed. Ewes respond exceptionally well to being fed at precisely the same time each day and any volume over 500g should be split into twice daily feeds. Feeding in this way can help reduce incidence of prolapses. Calibrating the snacker or other feeding kit is also important as different feeds weigh differently, depending on how energy dense they are.

All being well, the ground will be dry by lambing time and there will be plenty fresh spring grass for ewes and lambs. Trial work shows once grass has reached 4cm tall, there is little need to continue to offer compound feed, except for ewe hoggs with lambs at foot, which have a huge nutrient demand post-lambing.

The Harbro team of sheep specialists are on hand to answer any questions about the best options for your flock and how best to maintain their body condition from now, all the way through to lambing and out the other side, to maximise scanning results and ultimately the number of lambs which hit the ground running.


Download your 2024 lambing list here

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