News & Advice

Management of multiple bearing ewes in pregnancy

May 7, 2017 | Dry stock, Sheep

The optimal management of ewes in pregnancy depends on

  • stage of pregnancy
  • number of foetuses carried
  • the level of feed available and predicted pasture growth
  • body condition of the ewe.

In late pregnancy, there is significant increase in feed demand depending on how many lambs a ewe is carrying. The following table illustrates the DM/d (Dry Matter per day) requirements of a 60kg ewe as she approaches lambing.

NOTE: this is what 1.75kg DM (Dry Matter) looks like as ‘wet matter’.

From this photo it is obvious that a multiple bearing ewe can often fail to consume their nutritional requirements in late pregnancy, even when feeding levels are plentiful. This is especially the issue with poor quality feeds and bulky feeds. Even if extra feed is available triplet bearing ewes struggle to consume more than twin bearing ewes, so she often utilises her body reserves to meet her nutritional requirements in late pregnancy.

This ‘under nutrition’ has many consequences:

Excessive under nutrition can lead to:

  • Sub-optimum levels of colostrum production
  • Delayed milk let down
  • Lower peak and total milk production
  • Low lamb birth weights
  • Poorly developed maternal instinct
  • Impaired lamb bonding behavior
  • Impaired thermoregulatory capability of lambs
  • Metabolic diseases in ewes

These factors lead to reduced lamb survival:

  • Lower lamb weaning weights
  • Lower ewe live weights and potential flow on effects

Ewes in good body condition i.e. a body condition score (BCS) of three or more can buffer these effects, so maintaining body condition throughout pregnancy is vital. Lifting condition of poor ewes will have the greatest effect on overall productivity. In early pregnancy, to gain weight, ewes need post grazing covers of 900kgDM/Ha. In mid-pregnancy, this rises to 1000kgDM/Ha. It takes 4-6 weeks of optimal feeding for a ewe to gain 0.5 BCS.

If feed is in short supply:

  • Sell empty ewes
  • Push singles onto lower covers, they can follow the multiples
  • Use bulky feeds to supplement ewes e.g. hay, bulbs until three to four weeks pre-lambing
  • Hold later lambing ewes at maintenance for a couple of weeks

Multiple ewes in late pregnancy need post grazing covers of 1200kgDM/Ha, and no bulky feeds should be given. Attention to nutrition of ewes in pregnancy, will increase ewe and lamb survival and have a positive impact on lactation. Ewes can only gain weight in early and mid-lactation so feed budgeting early on in pregnancy allows you to correct the situation. If you have difficulty in meeting these optimal nutritional guidelines
most years, it is possible you are carrying too many ewes during winter.

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