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Gestation Ewe Feeding

Fall 2019 Newsletter

Most of you will be lambing late this fall and winter. As you head into winter, remember that good preparation is everything. Assuming you have adequate forage supplies then our attention goes to nutrition and health concerns for the gestating ewe. In much of the country, we will be out of grass and all of its benefits by December, most likely earlier. Without high quality grass, the ewe flock becomes totally dependent upon the shepherd’s feeding skill. Nutritional supplementation of the winter forage supply becomes critical. We will be in a demanding winter environment and need to fulfill the increased nutritional demands of late gestation. Much of this years winter hay supply will be first cutting or lower quality hay. The 2019 hay crop is of both lower quality and lesser volume. Hay sampling and ration balancing based on forage quality should be considered for most flocks. With lower quality hay, fed at a lower rate, we will need to feed more of the correct amounts of grain and supplement. You will have to adjust your traditional gestating feeding program this year.

The annual reproduction of sheep in the winter and early spring can be demanding. Preventative health (vaccination programs), nutrition and stockmanship must be at a high level for successful winter production. A good late gestation vaccination (CD/T, Pasturella, etc) program for ewes will lead to success at lambing and during the early life of the lambs. Gestational nutrition is critical, as we are supplementing almost all of the needs of the ewes due to the stage of production and the low quality of much of our forage.

Winter gestation feeding has a double challenge of low quality hay and the fact we are feeding for that highly demanding production stage. The fact that winter gestation feeding coincide with low quality forage makes supplemental feeding critical for success. The probability of deficiencies of even a basic nutrient such as energy or protein and certainly selenium, magnesium, calcium, Vitamin E, etc. is high! A good Gestation Feeding Program starts 6-8 weeks prior to lambing. Without adequate energy, newborns will be small and weak, stillborn and abortions will also be at a higher level. Adult animals that are shorted on energy will lose weight, have low milk production, a shortened live span, and have a longer re-breeding interval. Protein will be needed to maximize milk production and for the viability of newborns. Calcium, magnesium, and, to some extent, potassium play a big role in metabolic disorders which can be disastrous. The sudden onset of hypocalcemia and hypomagnesia frequently seen in otherwise healthy ewes are results of those deficiencies. Feeding these nutrients as a preventive measure is more successful than the treatment options. Iodine is very important in reducing stillborns and preventing goiter. Low selenium and/or vitamin E results in white muscle disease in newborns, weakness, low birth weight & viability, lamb death loss, stillborns, dystocia, delayed breed back time, and lowered performance.

Production stage specific feeding programs can address these concerns. While ewe maintenance requirements are usually filled with free choice mineral and pasture/forage. Gestation and Lactation have a much greater need for all classes of nutrients. The first significant nutritional change for the ewe occurs during late gestation (the last 4-6 weeks). For a ewe carrying twin lambs, her dry matter needs increase by 30%, energy (TDN) by 60%, and protein by 50%. These are dramatic changes at any time of the year! Adequate levels of these nutrients are necessary because 70% of fetal growth occurs during the last 4 weeks of gestation.

A good gestation feeding program will increase lamb birth weight and survival. Sufficient energy is needed to prevent pregnancy disease (ketosis) in the ewe. Gestation feeding programs affect the ewe’s milk production during lactation. Too much feed can cause fat deposits in the udder reducing production. Over feeding can lead to lambing difficulties due to large lambs. Not enough feed can also cause a delayed onset of lactation and lower milk production. Proper grouping of ewes so that they have 4-6 weeks on the ‘late gestation ration’ will minimize these problems. What you do to the ewe flock in late gestation determines the success of your lambing ! Prelambing vaccinations and feeding to prevent coccidiosis, abortions, stillborn, and white muscle disease should be routine practices.

Typical Gestation feeding recommendations would be about 4 – 4.5 # of hay equivalent and about 1-1.25 # of grain daily. Recommendations vary with ewe body weight/condition, breed, fleece length, temperature, and forage quality.

Good gestation feeding programs that supplement important nutrients such as energy, protein, selenium, vitamin E, magnesium, iodine, etc. are vital to success. The feeding program is really about fulfilling animal health needs. Planning ahead so that you can manage the sudden increase in nutritional needs during gestation is very important. A good gestation program determines your lambing success and enjoyment.

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