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Good ewe nutrition is helping to boost colostrum quality, milk production and flock health ahead of lambing. Feed blocks containing essential trace elements, vitamins,... Optimise flock performance ahead of spring lambing

Good ewe nutrition is helping to boost colostrum quality, milk production and flock health ahead of lambing.

Feed blocks containing essential trace elements, vitamins, and minerals are also bolstering youngstock development and immunity while promote the vitality and vigour of newborn lambs and ewes.

“Supplementation is especially important in the final six weeks of pregnancy through to the first four weeks of lactation,” says Alison Bond, nutritionist for Rumenc Bond, which manufactures Lifeline Lamb & Ewe in a 14-inch hard-pressed feed block.

Energy requirements

“Ewes are under a lot of stress as large amounts of nutrients from their diet are partitioned to rapid foetal development, colostrum production and eventually lactation – increasing their protein and energy requirements and doubling them when carrying twins.”

Supplements give farmers more feeding options for boosting future flock performance in the weeks ahead of lambing – helping producers to optimise nutrition and make better use of available resources.

Independent trials by SAC found that the blocks increase colostrum quality by 25% over a standard energy supplement when fed six weeks pre-lambing – helping newborn lambs combat bacterial and viral infections.

Dr Bond says the increase in colostrum quality can be attributed to the well-balanced combination of nutrients in the pre-lambing supplement – helping to ensure protein makes it through the rumen.

Zinc formulations can further boosts flock health and performance. A highly available, organic zinc, Zinpro Availa Zn is far more metabolically available, leading to greater absorption in the small intestine – increasing utilisation, says Dr Bond.

Feeding calcium

Support pre-lambing ewes with additional calcium can also bring benefits, says Emily Hall, livestock farmer and product manager for Nettex.

The nutritional imbalance caused by the unavailability of metabolisable calcium is most often seen in the final weeks of pregnancy as ewes are put under significant nutritional stress due to accelerated foetal growth.

“Calcium deficiency in ewes most commonly occurs when the sudden increase in demand of calcium for colostrum production and lamb growth exceeds the ability of the body to quickly mobilise calcium from the bone.”

The condition is most frequently seen in the last four weeks of pregnancy – although it can be seen during other times when animals are stressed. Signs include coma, paralysis, rapid breathing, tremors, uncoordinated movements and can be fatal.

Older multiple-bearing ewes are highest at risk. But other factors can trigger calcium deficiency in healthy ewes. These include nutrient deficiencies, sudden diet changes close to lambing and excessive stress caused by overhandling and dog worrying.

Quick recovery

Feeding high levels of calcium in a pre-lambing diet can increase risk because it interferes with the ewe’s ability to mobilise calcium from bone.

“If a calcium deficiency is identified or suspected, and prompt supplementation with a bioavailable calcium source is required, ewes should recover within an hour of calcium supplementation,” says Ms Hall.

CalciEwe+ is a calcium drench with added energy, magnesium and niacin to support recovery after pre-lambing exhaustion. Available in a 500ml bottle with an applicator tube, 100ml should be administered orally at the first signs of calcium deficiency.

“The high level of bioavailable calcium will help support ewes suffering from calcium deficiency. In a case where a ewe still appears to be lethargic after eight hours, an additional 100ml should be administered,” says Ms Hall.

How to reduce risk of calcium deficiency

Calcium deficiency is tricky to identify due to the clinical signs and causes being similar to twin lamb disease.

“Calcium deficiency and twin lamb disease occur at similar times, making the two difficult to distinguish.,” says Emily Hall. A blood test would confirm a diagnosis. But tests take time and for any treatment to be effective it must be given at the first signs of disease.

Because waiting for blood sample diagnostics would make intervention too late, Ms Hall advises farmers to take a belt and braces approach and treat ewes for both calcium deficiency and twin lamb disease.

Producers should also feed a high-energy supplement. Formulated with multiple energy sources, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, good supplements can give ewes a fast energy boost to aid recovery from exhaustion.

“Because there are so many uncontrollable variables that can trigger calcium deficiency and twin lamb disease in ewes, it’s worth producers having product on hand to administer as soon as they see a ewe demonstrating clinical signs of either problem.”