Managing ewes in wet weather

Friday, 6 March 2020

At this time of year, low body condition score (BCS) ewes may be hiding under a thick fleece. If lambing indoors, check BCS at turnout, while those lambing outdoors should monitor grass growth. BCS targets at lambing are 2.0 for hill flocks, 2.5 for upland flocks and 3.0 for lowland. Normally, ewes in good condition will have better reserves and should not need additional supplementary feed, unless grass is below 4 cm in height. Short, dense swards of high digestibility promote optimum intakes, provided other factors, such as weather conditions, distance to water, or contamination, do not interfere. So, for ewes out at grass in wet areas, they may struggle with dry matter intakes (DMI) due to high intakes of water while grazing. These ewes may need supplementary feed to provide rumen fill, such as hay, silage and/or concentrates.

In these challenging conditions, young sheep and ewes below target BCS will need more support than usual. Try to separate these sheep and provide them with the best grazing, alongside those with multiple lambs. Monitor condition to ensure no further loss. Ensure all ewes have sufficient access to feed, if housed. A 70 kg twin-bearing ewe before lambing has an energy requirement of 18 MJ, rising to 25 MJ in early lactation, so meeting increased energy demand is crucial. DMI of ewes on an all-grass wintering system will rise from 2% of body weight in late pregnancy to over 3% in early lactation. Keep a close eye on paddocks reserved for ewes in late pregnancy and early lactation by recording grass growth to ensure they are on track. If you are feeding silage or concentrates for the first time on your farm this year due to the bad weather, it is worth getting your silage analysed and checking the ingredients in the compound feed. Check out page 33 of Feeding the ewe for guidance on what a good grass-silage analysis looks like and compound feed ingredients. For more information on body condition scoring, see Managing ewes for Better Returns. Advice on general issues associated with flooding can be found here.

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