Saturday, March 23, 2019

Ensure energy needs are met for successful lambing season

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

With the lambing season well under way, sheep producers are being reminded to supply adequate energy to meet the nutritional demands of their flocks.

“Throughout a ewe’s pregnancy – regardless of system – the nutritional demands follow the same pattern,” says Kenton Hart, technical manager at Caltech Crystalyx. “It is vital that farmers focus on the timely needs of the pregnant ewes to reduce losses and maximise performance.”

Nutrition in mid pregnancy should be sufficient to optimise placental growth, says Dr Hart. Foetuses undergo very little growth in mid pregnancy, but growth of the placenta continues and is completed by the end of the third month of gestation.

“The placenta provides all the nutrients for the unborn lambs in late pregnancy and poor placental development will result in low birthweight lambs with poor viability – irrespective of late pregnancy feeding.”

Body condition

Mid-pregnancy feeding should aim to maintain ewe condition as far as possible. Loss of body condition in mid-pregnancy will only reduce body reserves available for milk production in early lactation, explains Dr Hart.

A sub-clinical deficiency of cobalt in the first half of pregnancy can result in lambs that are slower to stand and suckle – and more susceptible to neonatal diseases. All these symptoms occur irrespective of late pregnancy feeding – so mid-pregnancy nutrition is important.

Access to dry hay in mid pregnancy is always beneficial and can be complemented with a high energy feed block together with trace elements, minerals and vitamins to stimulate forage digestion and fermentation in the rumen and help bridge any dietary shortfall.

“This is a proven and very easy practice to put into place,” says Dr Hart.

“Lamb survival is largely dependent on a good birthweight and high lamb vigour, coupled with maternal care and a swift onset of lactation by the ewe. With 70% of foetal growth taking place in the final six weeks of pregnancy, all these factors depend on good late pregnancy nutrition.”

Energy requirement

As the unborn lamb grows, so does the energy demand placed on the heavily pregnant ewe. The more lambs she carries, the greater her daily energy requirement. But as the volume of the uterus increases with growing foetal size, rumen volume decreases.

This highlights the need for effective nutrition, says Dr Hart.

“It’s all about quality and not quantity. If the ewe is fed an energy deficient diet in late pregnancy, to maintain the growth rate of her unborn lambs the ewe supplies them with extra energy from her own body reserves – her own backfat.”

If the energy deficit is too great, the ewe goes down with twin lamb disease (pregnancy toxaemia). Most cases are caused by under feeding of multi-foetate ewes – a true dietary energy shortfall. But twin lamb can also occur in well-fed over-fat ewes which become lazy feeders.

Continual supply

Feeding energy feed blocks on a self-help system allows ewes to regulate their intakes according to their requirements, says Dr Hart. Because it is licked, a feed block provides a continual supply of nutrients to stimulate rumen fermentation and forage digestion.

Timing supplementary feeds in late pregnancy is dictated by forage quality and lamb burden. Single-bearing ewes can be left outside and fed hay and high-quality feed blocks with no further supplementary feed necessary – and this can reduce the risk of over-sized single lambs.

“Twin and triplet-bearing ewes will need supplementary concentrate feeding; and the timing of their introduction will depend on the quality and quantity of available forage. With forage stocks proving a challenge this winter, it is especially important to utilise it as effectively as possible.

“Look for products that are proven to stimulate forage intakes and digestibility – resulting in better use of home-grown forage and potentially delaying the introduction of supplementary feeds. This will ultimately see a reduction of overall costs.”

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