In the UK, we are fortunate to have easy access to concentrate feed when we need it – our counterparts in the southern hemisphere are less fortunate. We can plan to make the most of grass, but we have a back-up in times of need. This back-up is only useful if our ewes know to eat this concentrate, they can be simply trained to eat. This is especially relevant in extreme winters when a supplement of energy is essential.
Starting them young while they are most curious is the best approach. Unmated ewe lambs will be the simplest to train – their demand will be lower than those that are mated. These can be trained to eat in the autumn or early winter. Ewe lambs which will be mated can be trained between weaning and a month pre-tupping if in good condition. Otherwise train them a month after the tup has been removed to avoid impacting embryo implantation.
They need to be given little alternative to the hard feed; short grass will still have a high energy value so they will prefer it to a poor quality ewe roll. Therefore, limit access to the grass by putting them into a small paddock, in a shed or on stubbles, for instance.
Provide around 200g/head/day of high energy ewe rolls (over 12 MJ ME/kg DM) or grains such as whole barley and oats, in troughs over two-three weeks. Ensure they have at least 30cm/lamb trough space. The feed can also be provided through a snacker on the ground. Alternatively, put energy buckets out – a more expensive way to feed energy but an adequate contingency when required. They do learn from other ewes, so having some experienced feeders in the group will be beneficial.
Training is a bit of a challenge, particularly for hill breeds, but it is worthy trialling – a small amount of feed now will pay dividends during extreme weather.
Poppy Frater, firstname.lastname@example.org
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