Looking after your ewes, an investment or cost

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Stock Journal Article - June 2024

Author: Deb Scammell, Talking Livestock

With the late break in almost all areas of South Australia this year meeting ewes nutritional requirements over the breeding season is becoming difficult and expensive.

If you have managed to retain some dry paddock feed and ground cover in paddocks the quality of most of this feed after a long summer and autumn is very low. When we look at ewe energy requirements in late pregnancy, over lambing and during lactation this is only supplying limited energy leaving a huge shortfall. Even with some short green pick the freshly grown feed is very high in moisture and very low in dry matter so doesn’t offer a huge advantage until it’s slightly more mature.

The 2023 hay supplies are starting to run out – on average the feed test results was very good with low fibre levels and high energy levels with average energy values ranging around 10 – 10.5 MJ/kg DM. This means stock can have quite high intakes of this hay and it can supply a fair portion of a ewes daily energy requirements.

Many producers are now left with 2022 hay which in most cases was a lot more fibrous and contained much lower energy values. Therefore ewes need extra energy supplementation from more energy dense feeds like barley, oats or full feed sheep pellets. Wheat can be included as a small portion of the ration if it’s all that’s available but it’s important to manage the introduction of this carefully to avoid acidosis.

Higher quality hays such as vetch, lucerne and good quality silage can also be useful to meet ewes’ energy requirements especially over lactation when protein is important to achieve lamb growth targets. Meeting daily protein requirements will allow better milk production which will improve lamb growth rates especially in twin or triplet born lambs.  If supplementing with cereal grain and cereal hay over lactation the addition of some protein such as lupins or beans can provide a similar advantage.

Supplementary feeding over lambing needs to be planned and implemented carefully to avoid mismothering. In areas with limited paddock feed it can be useful to set up multiple feeding stations across lambing paddocks to reduce the number of ewes and newborn lambs coming to the same hay or self-feeder. This is especially critical for multiple bearing ewes. Ideally if a large portion of the ration is being provided by grain or a pellet, reducing mob size and also having one feeder for a maximum of 100 ewes can improve lamb marking results. If trail feeding of the grain and pellet portion of the ration is the only option providing high quality hay or silage also can be helpful so hungry ewes don’t run for the trail leaving their lambs.

Condition score over marking and make a plan to possibly early wean lambs if required so that the performance of the ewe isn’t impacted the following year.