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Ewe Condition Through Lactation

24 March 2021

Many will still be amid, or looking forward, to this year’s lambing, we hope it goes smoothly, but we also want to raise awareness of how management in lactation could influence next year’s lamb crop.

Six months prior to mating, the ovarian follicles start their journey to ovulation. This process is influenced by the ewe’s nutrition and condition. We tend to accept condition loss through lactation – it is a challenge to keep condition on them.  However, if they are going into lambing lean, and then getting leaner through lactation, their reproductive performance may be impaired.  In addition, it takes a lot more work to get lean ewes fit for tupping and condition score at mating is highly influential to rearing percentage.

Therefore, I would recommend taking stock of condition at lambing and considering options to get those leaner ewes back on track.

Options to consider:

  1. Managing grazing: lean ewes should be given special attention.  Consider putting them on the best quality grass on the farm and keeping at least 5 cm of grass in front of them.  Herbal leys, lots of clover and leafy ryegrass are great, where possible.
  2. Feed during lactation: If grass is in short supply, some supplementary feeding will give them the boost needed to get the lambs off to the right start and get them back on track.  As a rule, feed if grass is shorter than 5 cm.
  3. Creep feed lambs: this frees up grass for the ewe and provides the feed to the lamb more efficiently.  With this, you have the added benefit that you will get them sold sooner to achieve better lamb price and reduce mouths on the farm.
  4. Early weaning: lambs can be weaned from 8 to 14 weeks old. Weaning early gives more opportunity for lean ewes to gain condition pre tupping.  Beware, if the lambs are exposed to other stressors (e.g. handling and movements) at the same time and quality pasture is not available, their weight gains will be checked.  However, even with limited quality pasture on the farm, weaning gives opportunity to prioritise it to those that need it most: lambs and lean ewes.

The practise of assessing ewe condition is often undervalued and skipped in favour of more pressing tasks, but condition really does influence the health and productivity of the flock.  With mounting evidence indicating the benefits of achieving condition targets on lamb performance and rearing success, consider how you might integrate this practise more into your flock management.  For more information, see FAS web resources: Condition Scoring for Sheep.

Poppy Frater,

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