The final six weeks of pregnancy are some of the most nutritionally challenging times for the ewe, as energy and protein demands increase nearly two-fold, in line with the 75% of foetal growth that happens during this short period.
Meeting this increased requirement for both energy and protein forms the basis of a successful lambing, including the success of the physical lambing event through to influencing the yield and quality of colostrum produced, and ability to produce vigorous lambs with a good birth weight.
It is essential that ewes are fed according to their needs – both underfed and overfed ewes present problems around lambing with potential detrimental outcomes for both.
Underfed ewes produce small lambs that are weaker at birth and slow to stand and suck, whilst the ewe herself may also produce poor quality colostrum. Under supply of energy can also result in slow lambings, that are more stressful on both the ewe and lamb; and increased risks of mis-mothering due to lack of energy.
Overfed ewes have more probabilities of suffering from vaginal prolapses and tend to produce larger lambs. The lambing process is also more complicated by fat being laid down in the pelvic area, making the birth canal narrower and lambing difficulties even more common.
Ensuring the ewe’s nutritional requirements are accurately met during these final weeks of pregnancy will pay dividends at lambing time and beyond, particularly where lamb health and survival are concerned.
It is important to plan for a successful lambing season. Good preparation for lambing season will help you to maximise the number of healthy new-born lambs to finish. Here are some tips for preparing your farm for lambing season:
Stock Up With The Equipment & Supplies You’ll Need
Lambing is always a busy time of the year and once the season starts you won’t have the time to keeping dashing out for essential kit. So get prepared and order materials such as disinfectant for pens, iodine for navels, castration rings, feeding tubes, marker sprays, sterilisation equipment, milk replacer, colostrum replacer and any other lambing essentials well in advance. Scarsdale Vets offer a handy lambing bucket containing everything you need!
Check Your Flock Health Plan
Remind yourself of the essential disease management interventions pre and post lambing. For example, make sure any lame sheep are separated and treated well before housing. Also, check the protocols for dealing with any abortion problems, scours or joint ill.
Prepare Your Sheep Housing
Sheds should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before ewes are brought inside (at least two weeks before lambing). Use plenty of clean, dry bedding to reduce the risk of spreading lameness and other infections such as watery mouth, joint ill and coccidiosis. Good lighting is important too because it makes it so much easier to check stock without disturbing them too much. Avoid overcrowding otherwise stress and disease issues can spiral out of control: a typical 70kg ewe needs 1.2m2 to 1.4m2 of floor space and 45cm of trough space.
Set Targets For Reducing Lamb Losses
Good records are essential to benchmark performance and to help you identify any potential problem areas. Your recording system doesn’t have to be sophisticated or complicated – the most important thing is to do it well and if you don’t record already, lambing time is a great time to start! You should be aiming for less than 15% lamb losses, but top performing flocks are achieving closer to 10%.