Warm weather warning

28 Feb 2019

With the UK having broken records for the warmest winters day for over 20 years this week, the BBC Weather Centre has reported that it is likely to be one of the warmest Februaries since records began back in 1878. Though there is still plenty of time for the weather to change, the early signs of spring, from migrating birds arriving early, to the trees coming into bud and the grass starting to grow, do not always mean good news to our livestock out in the fields.

Over fat ewes

Many ewes have come through the winter in too good a condition and we’ve been speaking to many farmers who are concerned about over fat ewes and how to avoid twin lamb disease at lambing. With a few weeks left before lambing (at least in some parts of the country)- there is still time to address body condition of the ewes, and to adjust nutrition accordingly.

Twin lamb is effectively an acute energy (glucose) shortage brought on by the massive, rapid increase in energy demanded by multiple foetuses in the weeks immediately prior to lambing. Thin ewes suffer simply by running out of energy reserves, but fat ewes effectively poison themselves by the rapid mobilisation of back fat at a rate far greater than their liver can cope with. The result is the generation of toxic ketones which further exacerbate the problem by dropping dry matter intake. The issue can spiral out of control rapidly with ewes going off their legs and a high mortality if not treated in time.

The key with fat ewes is to understand the huge energy reserve potentially available on her back, and planning how to utilise it most effectively. Quality protein is essential. Back fat is pure carbohydrate, and when broken down in the liver creates glucose; the fat ewe needs quality protein to balance this release of carbohydrate. And this also means that by balancing with high quality protein, the ewes do not need to be overfed. Instead, a reduced supply of quality feed is more effective than high volumes of low density feed for these ewes.

Relying on the fat ewe to survive on forage alone is a recipe for disaster. She needs access to a constant supply of both quality feed and forage to protect against sudden changes in weather which often precipitate a sudden release of fat, and the onset of twin lamb. This is where feed blocks and molassed feed licks play such an important role. By providing a constantly available source of energy, proteins and trace elements, these free-access feeds allow the at-risk ewe to consume additional energy at the time of need.

So, if you are looking at ewes which are in too good condition, there is still time to help prevent twin lamb. Despite being fat, they should now be receiving low levels of high quality feed to get the rumen bugs acclimatised to the feed ingredients. By providing high quality by-pass protein it is possible to make use of this fat safely and reduce body condition in the weeks prior to lambing. Providing b-vitamins, cobalt and UDP will all help liver function, and free access energy licks will help protect against sudden changes in weather. As always, it is best to consult with your vet and feed specialist to plan an effective programme for your farm.

Our Energyze Vitality bucket contains key minerals to aid in the prevention of twin lamb disease and gives both ewe and lamb essential nutritional support:

  • Propylene Glycol
  • Choline
  • Mannans
  • High Quality DUP



Early turn out along with the flush of spring grass will also mean an increased staggers risk.  Increases in the occurrences of the disease in spring are as a result of rapidly growing grasses which are low in magnesium. It is important to ensure the best possible magnesium supplement is made available, especially to animals at increased risk, e.g. lactating or older cows. We have a range of buckets and blocks available with the highest availability mag sources, and it is important to be aware of this risk in the current conditions. Your Harbro specialist will be able to advise on the best approach for your conditions on farm.

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