Serving the Farming Industry across East Anglia for 35 Years
Sheep producers are being urged to optimise ewe nutrition to ensure as many healthy lambs are born as possible this spring. Concern over impact of low scanning percentages

Sheep producers are being urged to optimise ewe nutrition to ensure as many healthy lambs are born as possible this spring.

Early scanning shows rates are 20-30% lower than normal following grass shortages due to lack of rain and high temperatures last summer, says Wynnstay national sheep and beef specialist Bryn Hughes.

High input costs and low scanning percentages could leave farmers tempted to cut out feed in the run up to lambing – but this could do more damage than good, warns Mr Hughes.

“While there’s not much that can be done about scanning percentages now, you can work to keep the lambs you’ve got,” he says.

This includes using the month after scanning to increase body condition score without causing problems at lambing from overly large lambs. “A good starting point is to body condition score ewes now.”

Producers should take extra care of thin ewes by offering supplementary feed for a month after scanning. Proactive management is essential to retain lambing percentages and make sure ewes lamb are in good condition with plenty of high-quality colostrum.

“Your aim is to lamb lowland ewes at a body condition score of 3.5 and hill ewes between 2.5 and 3. An increase in condition score of 1 is equivalent to a 10% increase in bodyweight, so this is a big ask for thin ewes.”

Mr Hughes recommends that farmers split ewes into management groups after scanning, with thinner ewes and those carrying twins marked for special treatment. “These can be fed supplementary concentrate feed, fodder beet, or extra forage.”

Adequate colostrum

Feed blocks can also be beneficial. Farmers can offer half a kilo of concentrate feed to each ewe every day. “Reaching target body condition score at lambing will result in better colostrum quality, increased milkiness, and better survivability.”

Some 49% of lamb deaths occur within the first 48 hours of life, says Emily Hall, product manager for animal health experts Nettex. This is largely due to inadequate amounts of maternal colostrum and lambs suffering from hypothermia.

A first feed should provide at least 50ml of colostrum per kilogramme of bodyweight. Within 24 hours they should receive 200ml/kg. “This means your average 5kg lamb will require 1000ml of colostrum – a high volume to consume in a short period of time.”

“The thick, creamy consistency of colostrum is from its high fat content,” says Ms Hall. “This provides lambs with a rich energy source which allows them to maintain their body temperature and bodily functions.”