News & Advice

Half the breedings in the feeding

Nov 29, 2020 | Dry stock, Sheep

By Tom David, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Raglan

One of the most profitable “enterprises” in a sheep flock is putting condition on skinny ewes for mating.
Skinny ewes (BCS 2) perform worse across the board compared to well-conditioned ewe’s (BCS 3).

Studies have shown:

  • Higher death rates in skinny ewes; 15-17% of ewes in poor body condition at mating may be missing (dead) by weaning.
  • Less lambs scanned in skinny ewes
  • Higher lamb death rates in lambs born to skinny ewes than well-conditioned ewes
  • Lower growth rates to weaning in lambs born to skinny ewes.

All this results in less kg lamb weaned/ewe mated.

Weaning is a good time to find your skinnies.  Early identification gives time to bring these sheep up to a profitable standard, through preferential feeding. Putting weight on during winter when the ewe is also growing a foetus is difficult.

Some ways to preferentially feed skinnies:

  • Running at the front of the ewe flock rotation
  • Grazing with lambs. This provides an added benefit of helping prevent drench resistance by providing a source of refugia amongst the lambs.

You will likely get a better return getting rid of the tail in your ewe flock than finishing lambs. Better conditioned ewes will wean more and heavier lambs’ next season. It is the start of a positive, efficient, money snowball.
Recent research has shown the best time to palpate udders of ewes to find culls on udder health is 4-6 weeks post-weaning.

Highlights of this research are below:
  • Lambs born to ewes with udder defects are 3-4x more likely to die than lambs born to ewes with healthy udders.
  • Lambs will be about 2kg lighter at weaning on average if born to a ewe with udder problems. This totals about 11kg less lamb weaned/ ewe with udder defects vs healthy udder.
  • Double the number of ewes with defects will be picked up if palpating udders 4-6 weeks post-weaning than at weaning.
  • Mortality rates in lambs born to ewes with udder defects are on average 3-4x higher than ewes with healthy udders.

If you need a hand with body condition scoring your sheep, mouthing and udder palpation, or working out which ones to keep, contact your local vet – we’re here to help.

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