Feeding ewes for optimal production and reproduction
By Dr Vlok Ferreira
National Technical Manager of Ruminants, RCL Foods
The nutritional requirement of a ewe will change throughout her lifetime, depending on her production cycle. As seen in the graph, the nutrition needed for a dry ewe will be low, but will increase slightly during the mating and breeding season. After mating, during mid-gestation, this requirement will start to climb and will increase drastically as the ewe reaches late gestation. Her requirements will peak at early lactation and as lactation progresses it will start to decline. Once her lamb is weaned and she becomes a dry ewe once more.
The ewe’s intake of a lick supplement should be approximately 15% of the total dry matter intake, whereas a production lick should make up close to 20% of the total dry matter intake. The quality of the grazing is the most important aspect, and contributes the most to the effect of any supplementation.
Flush feeding and management
Flush feeding is a management practice that should be put in place roughly three weeks before the mating season. The ideal body condition score (BCS) for a ewe at mating should be about 3.5, where 1 is very thin and 5 is overfat. The goal of flush feeding is to increase the weight and condition of ewes. This will increase ovulation and conception rate of ewes that have been mated, and results in a higher lambing percentage. For every 1 kg of weight that the ewe gains, her lambing percentage increases by 1.5 – 2%
Ewes that have a BCS of 2 – 2.5 should be fed separately from ewes already in a good condition, as ewes that are already in a good condition will not benefit as much from flush feeding. Flush feeding should be implemented 4 – 6 weeks before mating, and should be maintained until at least 3 weeks after mating. The reason behind this is to keep the level of nutrition consistent, so that ewes do not absorb the foetus due to stress.
A good management tip is to use teaser rams in spring, as this is when sheep experience a decrease in fertility that corresponds with a decrease in night length. The presence of teaser rams help ewes to come into estrus quicker.
Look out for part 2 of this series, where we discuss the reproductive cycle of the ewe and how feed management influences it.