With many March lambing ewes now housed, farmers are looking at the most effective way to feed their ewes.

Pre-lambing feeding will have an influence on ewe condition, lamb birth weight, colostrum produced by the ewe, and lamb survival. All these factors have a massive part to play in profitability of the sheep enterprise.

Adequate feed space will ensure intakes are maintained pre lambing.

The growing lambs reduce the size of the ewe’s rumen, subsequently reducing appetite by up to 30 per cent, resulting in the requirement of concentrated energy at this stage in the form of concentrates or meal.

Lack of adequate feeding in late pregnancy can result in high levels of twin lamb disease, thin ewes at lambing, poor lamb viability, low lamb birth weights and survival, as well as very poor colostrum quality and quantity.

Studies indicate that well-fed ewes produce the best colostrum quality and that there is a huge variation in the quality of powered products.

Research has also shown that well-fed ewes have almost twice as much colostrum within 18 hours after lambing compared to underfed ewes.

Diseases such as watery mouth and scours are more common when ewes are dirty, which can be due to overstocking or lack of adequate bedding, and where there is a lack of quality colostrum available to the lamb at birth.

Some intensive farmers have routinely administered oral Spectinomycin at birth to prevent watery mouth and scours caused by E.coli.

This antibiotic is no longer available, and attention to detail with bedding and overall hygiene and cleanliness practices will be ever more important.

Maximising use of top-quality silage is where any feeding plan should begin. This starts with silage analysis to get an indication of its feeding value.

Only the best silage should be fed to sheep, preferably first cut with an M.E. of over 11 MJ/kg DM.

It should be well fermented and have no mould or soil contamination. Precision chop silage is preferred over round bales as the short chop length results in higher intakes, therefore reducing the amount of concentrate feeding needed.

Significant savings on concentrates can be made by feeding excellent quality silage compared to poor quality silage. Silage should be offered on an ab-lib basis, and 15cm of feed space per ewe is needed in this case.

Feeding concentrates twice daily is recommended over once daily, as there is less chance of acidosis and puts less pressure on the rumen.

Overcrowding and lack of trough space generally results in very dirty sheep, with a number of them not receiving the correct allocation of feed.

This can lead to metabolic disease in ewes and post-lambing issues such as scour and watery mouth in young lambs as stated earlier.

Water intake varies according to the stage of production and the dry matter of the diet. In late pregnancy, the water intake per ewe is around 4.5 litres per day, and this goes up to 10 litres per day in early lactation.

Water drinkers must be kept clean and easily accessible to the sheep.

Attention to detail in all areas including housing, feed, water and overall hygiene practises will help give lambs the best start and maximise numbers to be sold this summer and autumn.