A successful lambing program will focus on:
Pre-Joining preparation of Young Ewes
Pre-Joining preparation of Flock Ewes
Nutritional requirements in the last 50 days of pregnancy
Energy Requirements during Lambing
Ewes are challenged with 70% of the foetal growth in the last 60 days of pregnancy, placing an increased demand on energy intake from their diet, coupled with their own requirements can lead to metabolic issues such as Pregnancy Toxaemia. Low blood calcium levels during this period can also have detrimental effects on milk production and lamb survival rates potentially resulting in ewe losses through Milk Fever (Hypocalcaemia).
Of course, information and solutions can be sought from many areas but at TRAC, we continue to keep the end goal in focus understanding that seasonal conditions and management have a big influence. Some of our previously published articles are still very relevant which we encourage you to run your eye over as a refresher.
Kicking off the seasonal library is…
"Utilising Dry Summer Feed"
With plenty of late season rain, paddock feed is looking strong this season. For those that have benefited from greater pasture growth, and plenty of standing feed on the horizon, this year we may see greater time until supplementary feeding and reduced pressure on confinement. Although there may be significant standing feed, remember that the basic parameters remain the same and we still need to meet animal requirements and understand the difference of feed vs fill.
Protein is our best friend and worst enemy at the same time. Protein will give us optimal feed conversion and provide the critical foundations for muscle and skeletal growth. However, the reason for the love-hate relationship is that protein is very expensive. Last year we saw lupins top $700/tonne and protein hays north of $450/tonne.
With plenty of pasture feed, if left standing, we will have very high fibre content and very low protein. Therefore, it is more fill than nutritional feed. Depending on the goals and targets for specific livestock groups, we can take different methods to turn this feed into valuable gains.
To grow young animals
Aim for absolute minimum 16% crude protein (CP) over whole diet. Barley grain is 12-14% CP, cereal hay 8-11% CP and standing feed 4-16% CP depending on the level of green. All very low. Prioritise summer crops for this group for ease of management or balance high lupin intake for low protein forage.
To maintain animals
Keep moving the mob through paddocks to make use of any green pick from late or summer rains, at this stage this is looking very promising to support maintenance and slight gains. Smaller paddock sizes are beneficial for rotational grazing. If supplementary feeding is required, pair with a protein mix grain or protein hay for weight gain.
For animals in good condition and when feed dries up, provide Bovine or Flock boost Dry Feed that has slow release protein, minerals and vitamins. Dry feed and cereals have poor mineral balance and little to no vitamins. However, the key element of this mix is the slow release protein. Consider the nitrogen to carbon ratio that is required in soil for optimal microbe activity, it is the same theory in the rumen. We need nitrogen to fuel the bugs to breakdown the carbohydrates in their feed, by providing a consistent release of protein to the rumen microbes we see better feed utilisation.
Something to consider
With an extended period of mature standing feed that has flowered or gone to head, there is a risk of mycotoxin challenges from summer rains. This might result in animals acting strange, misadventure, appearing to overheat in mild conditions or standing in dams/troughs. If you suspect toxin or endophyte challenges, provide your cattle or sheep a Toxin Binder Boost product that contains Elitox® ad libitum.
Energy balance becomes very topical as the summer progresses and in Autumn Lambing flocks we move from maintenance feeding to the final stages of pregnancy.
“Energy Balance for Lambing & Lactation”
Chasing milk production in sheep generally isn’t the primary focus unless you run a sheep dairy. However, it definitely needs to be further up the focus list when preparing and managing lambing ewes.
See below a graph on ewe energy requirements we shared last year, once the ewes begin lactating their energy significantly increases. This extra energy is then efficiently converted to milk for lambs when their requirements are met.
A key thing to note in the graph, the grey bar shows energy provided from 48% NDF and 9.8 ME cereal or pasture hay which was typical from the 2019 harvest. Now in 2021, and mostly using 2020 forage as our base, the situation is extremely different.
In 2020, across many regions were less than ideal baling conditions with consistent rains that either kept hay on the ground too long; or cut very late; or both. This resulted in feeds with very low protein, down to 5% CP and very high NDF, up to 60%. These results are very similar to straw, which we know can’t sustain animals and definitely can’t provide enough energy to successfully lamb and continue to produce good quality milk.
Where to start...
Quickly grab a forage sample and send it off to Forage Lab Australia (FLA) for an A1 NIR analysis, they have a quick turnaround and comprehensive results. FLA will provide Crude protein, but also critical information on ADF, Lignin, sugars, energy and more.
Match grain to the hay – a good mix may consist of both lupins and a cereal grain, such as wheat or barley which provide energy density and valuable nutrients.
Lupins will provide much-needed protein to get around our target of 14-16% CP
Cereal grains will provide starch, a highly valuable component of milk production for volume and milk protein. Starch is a precursor for glucose, which also provides benefit to the foetus and ewe pre-lambing. Consider wheat or barley.
Begin feeding grain 3 weeks prior to lambing and always introduce slowly – ruminants are habitual animals and benefit from consistency in routine. Trail feeding will allow controlled grain intake, or ad-lib feeders can be useful when labour is not available. If using an ad-lib feeder, it is critical they never run out of grain or animals will become stressed and likely overeat when it is refilled. Always have forage available ad-lib and clean water.
Meeting energy requirements will reduce risks of preg toxaemia; low glucose, and support milk production for lambs to also have better survival rates. For best results, systems must be adapted to feed quality available, using the same recipe as last year may not yield the same results.
Lambing Dystocia is always best avoided so be sure to brush up on your awareness with this article.
Lambing Dystocia or lambing troubles are when a lamb is either too big for the birth canal, the birth canal is abstracted and or the lamb is presented where a ewe can’t physically push the lamb out, e.g. breach or front legs pinned back.
Whilst dystocia and slow birthing can have a negative effect on the lamb, ewe health can also be affected with some lambs and ewes dying because of the issue. The single biggest effect both positive and negative on dystocia is nutrition. A prime example of this is when over conditioned ewes lamb, which cause slower births which effect lamb survivability because these ewes have excess fat through the pelvis area restricting the space the lamb has, to exit the ewe.
Research has shown that Ewes that had prolonged and difficult births did not show competent maternal behaviour compared to mothers with short and un-complicated deliveries. This means that ewes that had trouble lambing were slower to begin grooming their lambs after birth, spent less time licking their lambs, and were more likely to show rejection. Similarly, lambs from a prolonged and difficult birth were significantly less vigorous after birth, as they had taken more time to stand, reach the udder and to suck successfully. They also had a reduced ability to maintain body temperature after birth. Lambs that were born from a slow birthing process had a higher rate of death in the first week then lambs born quicker.
How do we have a positive effect on the time spent lambing?
Providing accurate nutrient to the class of animal. Scanning pregnant ewes allows us to know how many foetuses each ewe is carrying, some scanners can even tell what cycle it was conserved in. This allows us to draft into groups and target the feeding program to each animals needs. Ewes carrying twins will need the most attention whist single bearing ewes are more robust
Lifetime ewe research has shown that maintaining a condition score above 2.7, during pregnancy results in higher lamb survival at birth, especially twin lambs, Increased lamb growth rate from birth to weaning as well as reducing ewe mortality.
For the people growing wool a half condition score lost during pregnancy, reduces the lambs clean fleece weight by 100g every year of its life whilst increases fibre diameter by 0.2micron each year.
Drafting animals into body condition scores and pregnancy status will give to the best ability to minimise lambing dystocia and issues associated with ewe time to lamb.
The last trimester of the ewes pregnancy is where the lamb puts on up to 70% of its birthweight. So a ewe in better condition at lambing will produce bigger lambs. Optimal birthweight for both the ewe and the lambs is 4.5-5.5kg. Ewes that are challenged in late pregnancy can have lambs that are 400- 500g grams lighter. On the flip side ewes that have accelerated nutrition above requirements can grow the lamb 400- 500g bigger.
From the graph below we can see that if we get the ewes in too good of BCS or over 3.5+ we start to have an increase in the death rate, due to Lambing Dystocia.
Ewes are also affected by weather, their age, pregnancy status and feed on offer at lambing
(source: GSARI 2001-2004 lambing data)
The information provided in this report are in no way a recommendation, and is provided in good faith based on current information at the time of research. TRAC cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions resulting from information provided.
Finally, with the onset of paddock feed in early Autumn, we experience further changes to animal diets so hitting your goals at this time of the season requires some attention to detail.
“Hitting Goals on Grass”
It is always a celebratory day when the skies open up for the Autumn break and the paddocks begin change from blowing dust to healthy shades of green.
The new grass starts to spring up and within a few weeks we can start running animals across permanent pastures for a beneficial pick, and then not too long after start to see our newly sown paddocks come into the mix. After many months paying a high price for protein, particularly this summer where feed prices went beyond the profitability line for most, it can be easy to let the animals do their own thing. However, unfortunately grass does not come without its own challenges, and in the early days we need to keep the feed trips going to supplement the animals through their transition from lower quality feed on to rocket fuel grass.
A rumen takes minimum three weeks as a rough rule of thumb to adjust to a change in feed and going from high fibre-low protein feed to low fibre-high protein grass is a major adjustment. Not only do we need to look at feed efficiency, but to take care of our new pasture growth as this is a key time point that can dictate home grown fodder production for the rest of the season. Therefore, we want to take it easy and allow for proper plant establishment and tillering for continued growth through winter.
Although protein is up, there can be too much of a good thing. For example, if changing from a cereal based diet to all green grass, the crude protein percentage triples. Additionally, the new, short grass will not have enough fibre for the rumen to run effectively, therefore passage rate will be high - costing the animal energy. A full rumen is optimal for all classes of stock, particularly those about to lamb or calve.
Once the animals are sufficiently transitioned, it is ideal to keep some starch grains (wheat, barley, oats etc.) in the mix, but understandably this is not always a possibility, particularly when feed prices are so high. Proving key minerals such as sodium (in salt) and magnesium can make a large difference for significantly lower cost.
Often on a full grass diet, due to the high protein and low fibre, there is a large loss of minerals out of the system (or inability to absorb out of the feed due to passage rate) and an energy cost to the animal to process the protein.
New grass can have lower magnesium, high potassium (soil type of fertilisers) and lower salt, which all contributes to decreased amounts of magnesium absorbed, a key nutrient for the central nervous system. Providing balanced levels of sodium and magnesium, with the addition of calcium and phosphorus are valuable requirements when on lush feed.
Information delivered is one resource, however, sometimes the best information is captured by you! So, take time to capture some of the basic on farm data from paddock to paddock and week to week, it’s incredible how powerful this can be:
1. Paddock history
2. Ewes down
3. Ewe losses
4. Lamb losses
All of this written on a simple paddock record sheet or a commercial app can play a significant role in identifying the big ticket items to be addressed for a successful lambing season.
To discuss tailoring a lambing program best suited for your farm,
contact your local TRAC Expert
by calling 08 8733 1888.
EXPERTS IN RUMINANT PRODUCTIVITY
0427 243 320
0429 437 823
0427 243 319
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