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High scanning percentages are prompting reminders for sheep producers to adjust ewe management this winter. Many ewes are carrying twins or triplets – with... Handy tweaks to get best from sheep flocks this winter

High scanning percentages are prompting reminders for sheep producers to adjust ewe management this winter.

Many ewes are carrying twins or triplets – with high percentages a welcome change from last year. But the grass quality is declining so other methods will be needed to maintain ewe body condition score.

“Last year, perhaps, some farmers got away with feeding a little less,” says Wynnstay beef and sheep national manager Bryn Hughes.

“But on the whole with ewes carrying more lambs this year, ewe management will need to change.”

All ewes should be body condition scored at scanning, says Mr Hughes. Farmers then have a one-month window to tweak body scre and ensure ewes are in optimum health to prevent problems at lambing and during gestation.

Bodyweight

Lowland ewes should be lambing at a body condition score of around 3.5, with hill ewes lambing at between a score of 2.5 and 3, explains Mr Hughes, where a score change of 1 is equivalent to a 10% change in bodyweight.

As forage quality and quantity decreases towards winter, a drastic change in body condition can put ewes and their lambs under stress – reinforcing the need to supplement ewes with additional feed to maintain their condition.

Around 70% of a lamb’s birthweight is put on in the last six weeks, advises Mr Hughes. And as lambing approaches, a ewe’s feed requirement almost doubles, he adds.

“As more ewes are carrying doubles and triplets, additional feed will further need to be fed to ensure they receive the correct nutrition to maximise colostrum and rear healthy lambs.

Supplementary feed

“Depending on the quality of forage, farmers have three main supplementary feeds to choose from. The first being to put ewes on roots, the second to give high energy lick buckets or blocks, and the third to feed compound feeds like cake.”

Good quality supplements will help increase protein and energy in the ration, to make up for reduced quality forage throughout winter.

“For compound feeds, you should be aiming for around 12.5MJ/kg of dry matter to meet the increasing demands of a ewe in late pregnancy.”

Good compound feeds are all formulated to provide the correct levels of protein and energy to set ewes up for the lambing period.

“Reaching and maintaining the optimal body condition score for ewes at lambing will ultimately result in better colostrum quality, increased milkiness, and better survivability.”

Increased risk of parasites in sheep and cattle

An increased parasite burden is expected in livestock following mild autumn weather.

Prolonged rain and warm temperatures at the start of autumn prolonged the parasite breeding season – putting both sheep and cattle at risk of infection, said Ben Strugnell, of Farm Post Mortems.

Lambs are continuing to suffer from high worm counts due to the increased number of parasites in the environment. This can have affect performance – slowing down their finishing times, said Mr Strugnell.

“It’s crucial to monitor lambs closely, looking for signs of poor performance. If you can, weigh them frequently and faecal egg count (FEC) test, to confirm any suspected worm burdens within a flock,” he said in an Elanco update.

Post-mortems

Mr Strugnell explained that he has recently seen increased numbers of cattle come into his clinic with heavy worm burdens. “I’ve performed several post-mortems on calves who’ve died after losing condition suddenly,” he said.

“Although the cause of death was originally thought to be liver fluke, it was revealed that these calves had bad cases of parasitic abomasitis (inflammation caused by worms) or lungworm.”

While lungworm is uncommon in sheep, it is more prevalent in cattle, though generally only occurring every few years.

“Never ignore stock with a ‘husky’ sounding cough, as this is a key symptom,” said Mr Strugnell.

“In terms of testing for lungworm, although both methods aren’t 100% reliable, you can send faecal samples away to check for larvae, and blood samples to check for antibodies after infection.”

Worms are harder to monitor in cattle than in sheep because the egg numbers present in faecal egg counts are lower – but in general, anything over 200 eggs per gramme means it is worth worming.