‘More of an emphasis on lactation feeding needed to boost fertility’

More of an emphasis needs to be placed on lactation feeding in order to boost ewe fertility, according to Liz Genever.

On Thursday evening (February 18) at the Teagasc Hill Sheep Conference Liz, who is an Independent Beef and Sheep Consultant in the UK, spoke about body condition scoring (BCS) and the importance of carrying out BCS and how farmers need to place a bigger emphasis on lactation feeding in order to boost ewe fertility.

She explained: “In terms of BCS, it is an extremely useful management tool. We use it to check how adequate the diet is and also the flock management.

“It should be carried out quite frequently throughout the year. The important thing to do when BCS ewes is to take action on the thinner ewes within the flock.

“So, fit or fat ewes will generally look after themselves, it’s really the thin sheep we want to really hone in on and see why are they thin and then try and put condition on them.

“Tupping is seen as a very important time to make sure ewe BCS is where it needs to be. However, some current work is demonstrating that actually quite a lot of next season’s fertility is already set up when ewes get to the mid-point of lactation.

So if ewes are thin or below target when they get to the mid-point of lactation, it doesn’t really matter how much condition they put on between that point and tupping.

“In actual fact, their fertility for the next year has already been set by that lactation feeding. So, we probably need to put more emphasis on lactation feeding than we do at other times of the year and that is mainly down to the development of the follicles in the ewe at this stage of the season [mid-lactation].”

Gaining condition from mating to scanning

Another interesting point Liz brought up during her presentation was got to do with hogget ewes and the importance of them gaining condition, ideally, between mating and scanning time.

She said: “The ADHB did a large project called the sheep key performance indicator (KPI) validation project. It demonstrated that hoggets tended to be more responsible for a higher proportion of lighter lambs within the flock.

“It made us realise that we do need to think about managing the younger ewes in the flock differently and even separately from the mature ewes.

The project showed that hoggets that gained weight from between mating and scanning had a better performance.

“A bit similar to the time between lactation and tupping I mentioned already, we probably allow sheep to lose a bit too much condition between mating and scanning just because at that time of the year feed availability can be stretched.

“But again, there is a nice relationship if hoggets can certainly maintain or ideally gain condition between mating and scanning – that it will improve the future performance of those animals.”