Why allowing a ewe to milk off her back isn’t necessarily a bad thing

A ewe’s requirement for energy and protein increases sharply after lambing, according to Teagasc’s Frank Campion.

During the period from immediately post-lambing to approximately four weeks into lactation the ewes’ energy and protein demands are at their highest of the entire production cycle.

“The ewe physically won’t be able to consume enough feed to meet that demand so she needs to mobilise body reserves after lambing,” he said.

This is important, he said, to ensure that milk production is sufficient enough to maintain high lamb growth rates.

Speaking at the recent Teagasc National Sheep Conference, Campion said farmers need to ensure that ewes lose as little condition as possible prior to lambing so that they are able to mobilise these reserves post-lambing.

“For the ewe to be able to use it she has to have it in the first place, realistically we need the ewe to have a minimum Body Condition Score of 3.

The ewe needs to be able to burn off a little bit of fat of her back.

The Teagasc Better Sheep Farm Programme representative said farmers really need to focus on the management of under-conditioned ewes.

This is because under conditioned ewes are more likely to suffer from pregnancy toxaemia in the hours post-lambing, have a reduced rate of colostrum production and be less attentive mothers.

“Research has shown that for every 0.5 of a Body Condition Score (BCS) unit lose in the month before lambing, lamb survival decreases by 5%.

Lamb survival has also been reported to drop by 5% for every 0.5 of a BCS unit below BCS 3.0 the ewe is at lambing time.

“So 5% might not seem like a whole lot, but getting BCS right will increase the weaning rate and reduce mortality,” he said.

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