Sheep farmers are preparing for lambing in 2024, if they have not already begun with early lambs.

Housing ewes is a must on many farms where grass supplies are tight and especially during the recent bad weather experienced, with ground conditions poor.

With housed sheep, farmers want the most effective way to feed their ewes this winter.

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, according to CAFRE advisers.

Beef and Sheep Adviser, Brian Hanthorn, from College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) says: “70 to 75 per cent of foetal growth takes place in the last six to seven weeks of pregnancy, and the energy demand on the ewe rises dramatically.”

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

Mr. Hanthorn added: “If a lot of powdered colostrum has to be used to supplement lambs at birth, this could be an indication that there are deficits in the feeding plan.”

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

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.

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 ME of over 11MJ/kg DM.

It should be well fermented and have no mould or soil contamination.

Mr. Hanthorn continued: “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.”

Many sheep farmers however still feed round bales to sheep, and chop length is getting shorter due to more blades in the chopping mechanism of round balers.

Significant savings on concentrates can be made by feeding excellent quality silage compared to poor quality silage.

Mr. Hanthorn said: “Concentrate feeds are expensive this year, but farmers should not buy on price alone. They must take a logical approach and study the feed label carefully.

“Ewe concentrates can vary from 16 to 21 per cent protein, and the type of protein is really important, especially in prolific flocks.”

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

Overcrowding and a 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.

Vaccinating for clostridial diseases is common and good practice on sheep farms. It is important ewes receive their booster, with most manufacturers recommending booster vaccines are given four to six weeks pre-lambing.

If lambing is spread out, the vaccine may need to be given at different times depending on due dates.

This is important to ensure maximum passive transfer of immunity to lambs, which provides them with protection for approximately the first three weeks from birth.

After this, clostridial vaccination of the lambs is required. Always get advice from your own vet before starting a vaccination programme.