The current lack of pasture feed may require ewes to be hand fed prior to and during lambing. Although recent rains will lead to some pasture growth, it will be slow until mid to late August when warmer weather conditions prevail.
Prior to, during and after lambing, a ewe’s nutritional requirements change markedly.
During early pregnancy, ewe bodyweight does not change significantly, hence ewes can be maintained on a diet similar to dry sheep. During this period, they should be maintained at a minimum of two score or above, with three score being ideal.
During the final 6 weeks of pregnancy, significant lamb growth occurs, with the weight of the entire conceptus increasing by approximately 10 kg, with the lamb growing to about 3.5 kg. During the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, overfeeding can lead to rapid lamb growth and birth difficulties. Underfeeding ewes, can lead to reduced mothering instincts and weaker lambs, resulting in increased losses.
During the last month of pregnancy, the feed requirement increases to approximately 1.7 times that of a dry sheep. A diet containing 8% crude protein is required, with ewes able to be maintained or supplemented with grain to meet their requirement.
During the first month of lactation, the feed requirement is approximately 2.5 times that of a dry sheep, with the diet required to contain at least 12% crude protein. For adequate milk production, the diet post-lambing should contain at least 20% roughage in the form of good quality hay. If necessary, higher protein grain may be fed to meet the protein requirement.
During the second and third months of lactation, the feed requirement drops slightly, but the requirement for protein remains.
The following table shows the maintenance requirements for ewes at various stages of pregnancy and lactation. The table assumes grain is wheat of at least 12% protein and hay is good quality lucerne hay. Where grain has less than 12% protein, an alternative source is required. Under current conditions, most pastures will be providing at least part of the required diet and this will reduce the supplementary feeding required. Hay is not required until ewes are lactating.
In times of drought and when handfeeding lambing ewes, mismothering can be a significant cause of lamb death. Reducing the density of ewes in lambing paddocks will help to reduce this. Feeding ewes daily and in the afternoon, will also reduce mismothering and keep ewes on a constant plane of nutrition.
Lambing ewes obtaining the majority of their diet from green pasture, do not require supplements. Ewes on a grain only diet, or those on grazing crops require an additional supplement of Sodium and Calcium. Sheep (particularly lambs) on grazing crops, may also benefit from the addition of Magnesium.
The most economical way of providing these supplements is by mixing Lime (Calcium), Salt (Sodium) and Causmag (Magnesium), to produce a loose lick.