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Turning Out Ewes and Lambs Onto Wet Ground

18 August 2015

This year many farms are waterlogged and while conditions should eventually dry out there is a chance that earlier born lambs will have to be turned out onto very wet fields. On the positive side there is plenty of grass but the ground soon gets muddy and grass is rejected. This short article looks at two aspects of this problem; managing grass on wet ground and protecting young lambs from wet ground.

Utilising good grass cover on wet ground

High grass covers are often difficult to utilise as the grass gets trampled on and becomes muddy. The best way to avoid this is to move the sheep often onto clean grass. The dirty grass will get a chance to be cleaned by rainfall and can be returned to later. This will create more work but will result in ewes eating more grass and less concentrates being required.

It is counterintuitive to do this but wet ground is actually best managed by stocking with more sheep per acre but for a shorter periods of time. Again this ensures that sheep are moved frequently onto clean grass that they will eat more readily. Obviously moving larger groups of ewes and lambs is not easy and can cause mismothering.

One practical way to work with your normal group size of say 50-100 ewes and their lambs is to simply split the field they are in with an electric fence. When the grass is dirty in the paddock they are in simply open up the fence and allow the sheep to move themselves onto the cleaner grass, closing the fence behind them when they have all moved. This could be done perhaps every 3 or 4 days depending on conditions. Of course what you are now doing is starting a rotational grazing system.

Feeding concentrates in troughs or on the ground will inevitably lead to muddy conditions which will cause damage to swards and increased risk of lameness and issues such as coccidiosis in lambs. Perhaps using feed blocks kept off the ground would be a simpler way to feed concentrates that would not cause as much ground damage although these would also need to be moved frequently.

Protecting lambs

The measures above will also help to keep the lambs clean and ensure their bellies are full as their mothers will be eating more clean grass. Some other possible things that could help would be:

  • Giving the lambs access to a creep feeder with a creep pellet treated with a coccidiostat. Care must be taken to place these in dry areas or on top of a straw mattress. Also be very careful if changing batches of creep or removing it- if they have had access to a coccidiostat the lambs will not have built up immunity so if challenged later they could succumb to the disease.
  • Feed buckets are also available containing coccidiostats
  • Laying down straw mattresses on parts of the field so the stock have somewhere dry to lie on.
  • Bringing the sheep in for part of the day. Not easy to move ewes with small lambs and obviously space may be an issue.
  • Use Lamb Macs. These are designed more to protect lambs from heavy rainfall and cold winds but they will offer some protection from wet ground conditions as well. After 3-5 days they will usually fall off but this might be enough to keep these lambs alive. There are several manufacturers and the cost is usually around 25 to 30 pence per jacket so this should not be prohibitive. One lamb saved therefore pays for 250-300 jackets.

Rhidian Jones

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