With many farmers beginning to house ewes around the country, Teagasc’s has produced six top tips on successfully housing and feeding your ewes during the final stages of pregnancy.
1. Shearing ewes at housing
Shearing ewes at housing is beneficial from both a husbandry and performance point of view, according to Teagasc’s Senior Research Officer, Tim Keady.
This practice will create more space in the sheep shed, make handling easier while also increasing the birth weight of lambs produced by 0.7kg from twin-bearing ewes.
The progeny of these ewes will also be 2.1kg heavier at weaning, he said, due to higher birth weights and increased growth rates up to the time of weaning.
2. Treat Ewes for Fluke
Ewes should be treated for fluke at housing or shortly afterwards, to prevent further complications from liver fluke, Keady said.
A recent report from the Department of Agriculture indicates that stock will be at a higher risk from fluke infection this year due to the higher level of rainfall in July and August.
3. Silage Quality
There are three major factors that farmers must consider when feeding ewes silage in late pregnancy. These are silage Dry Matter Digestibility (DMD), chop length and its crude protein content.
According to Keady, each 5% increase in silage DMD offered to ewes during late pregnancy will result in the ewes being 6kg heaver at lambing.
Ewes will also produce heavier lambs, with these lambs being 0.25kg heavier at birth and 0.9kg heavier at weaning. Therefore, it is important that farmers get their silage tested.
Furthermore, the Teagasc sheep specialist added that there is a wide variation in the quality of silage produced on farms throughout Ireland, with the range stretching from 52-82% DMD.
The chop length of the silage must also be considered, he said, as ewes are capable of ingesting higher volumes of precision chopped silage compared to baled silage.
4. Concentrate Feeding
The amount of concentrates offered to ewes will depend on the feeding value of grass silage and the expected lamb crop, according to Keady.
The amount of concentrates required for the ewes during late pregnancy increases as the quality of the silage decreases.
Twin-bearing ewes on baled silage will also require additional concentrates, he said, as their intake of this feed is lower compared to precision chopped silage.
5. Grouping Ewes
At housing, ewes should first be grouped on the basis of expected lambing date, which can be easily done by alternating the colour of the raddle on a weekly basis during the breeding season.
This will be beneficial, particularly due to the large volumes of concentrates ewes consume during the latter stages of pregnancy, he said.
Furthermore, he added that ewes should also be grouped on litter size once scanning has been completed on farm. This will allow for ewes to be fed on the basis of litter size, he said.
6. Concentrate Feeding
The volume of concentrates should also be stepped up over the last six weeks of pregnancy, as a large amount of foetal growth occurs during the final three weeks, said Keady.
He added that farmers should focus on the quality of the ingredients in a concentrate rather than the price and that concentrates should also contain a high quality, protein, energy and fibre source.
Furthermore, he said that reducing the concentrate cost on a per tonne basis will have little impact on the cost per ewe, as reducing the concentrate feed cost by €20/t will only reduce the cost per ewe by 40c/kg.