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Ewe Nutrition and Management Pre-Lambing


Ensuring that the ewe receives the correct nutrition pre lambing is one of the key factors affecting subsequent lamb performance for the rest of the year. Shauna Fitzmaurice, Teagasc B&T Drystock Advisor, looks at the important aspects of ewe nutrition and management pre-lambing.

80% of foetal growth takes place in the last 6-8 weeks pre lambing resulting in the ewes energy requirement being at its highest when her intake capacity is at its lowest. This makes formulating a suitable diet challenging particularly for multiple bearing ewes. There are four key factors that will determine the amount of concentrates that should be fed to ewes in the run up to lambing:

  1. The number of lambs the ewe is carrying
  2. Stage of pregnancy – number of weeks before lambing
  3. Body condition score of the ewe
  4. The quality of the forage being fed
Concentrate Feeding to Ewes in Late Pregnancy (last 8 weeks)
Weeks Before Lambing87654321
*Singles     0.1kg 0.2kg 0.3kg 0.4kg 0.5kg 0.6kg
**Twins   0.1kg 0.2kg 0.3kg 0.4kg 0.5kg 0.6kg 0.7kg
***Triplets 0.1kg 0.2kg 0.3kg 0.4kg 0.5kg 0.6kg 0.75kg 0.9kg

*Typical Meal feeding programme - Ewes on good quality silage, 70% DMD, Body Condition Score of 3.0

It is also important to consider the ingredients that make up concentrate rations. Good quality ingredients are essential. High quality protein sources such as soya bean meal will increase colostrum/milk quality and production and good quality cereals such as barley, wheat and maize will maximise energy intakes. Generally a 18-19% crude protein ration will suffice although for high litter size flocks a 20-21% protein nut may be required. It is also essential that a suitable vitamin and mineral mixture is included as this will help prevent any deficiencies and reduce the risk of issues such as milk fever and grass tetany post lambing. Concentrates should always be introduced at a low level and increased at a steady rate thereafter.

Other management factors to consider:

Adequate trough space is vital to ensure that all ewes get access to their fair share of the concentrates and also to prevent any bullying at the feed face. A general guide is that you can feed ten 70kg ewes in a standard 4.8m wide pen in late pregnancy. The table below outlines the different trough space required by different size of ewes:

Ewe Body Weight (kgs)Concentrate Trough Space (mm)Silage Trough Space (mm)
50 400 150
70 450 - 500 200
90 600 250

Water supply and quality is another vital component to ensure that a successful lambing occurs. In late pregnancy a ewe can consume up to 6 litres of water per day especially where high levels of concentrates are being consumed. Water should be made available at all times and water troughs should be checked regularly to make sure that they are not contaminated.

In the final 4 to 6 weeks pre lambing ewes should also be vaccinated with their annual clostridial booster vaccine. This will allow for the antibodies to pass over to the lamb through the ewes colostrum and also avoids having to vaccinate lambs after birth. If farms have previously had issues with watery mouth at lambing time ewes can also be vaccinated for certain strains of the causative E-coli bacteria 2 to 4 weeks pre lambing.

Key points to note:

  • High quality concentrates must be fed to multiple bearing ewes in the final 2 months before lambing
  • The amount of concentrates fed depends on the litter size of the ewe, the body condition of the ewe and the quality of silage being fed
  • Ensure that ewes have adequate trough space and a clean fresh supply of water at all times