SRUC Winter Care Advice to Sheep Farmers

Published Wednesday, 12th December 2012 in SAC Consulting news

Ewe with sucking lamb

Experts from SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College, are reminding sheep farmers of the next steps in their winter feeding programme.

Their now pregnant ewes face a harsh winter before lambing in the spring. Yet the weather, pests and diseases of the worst summer on record has left sheep in poorer condition than normal, while winter feed stocks are more variable in nutritional quality and quantity than many can remember.

Nutritionist Dr Colin Morgan of SAC consulting, a Division of SRUC, stresses the importance of farmers understanding what they are dealing with.

“In November we urged farmers to analyse the silage they are feeding so they know what nutritional value their ewes are getting out of it and what supplements might be needed. We also advised they score the stock according to their condition, grouping them if possible to simplify ration planning. If that’s all been done these next steps should be easier, but remember the quality of later cuts of silage may also vary, so don’t rely just on one test.”

Colin Morgan and his colleagues recommend farmers keep an eye on each ewes condition score but avoid further handling immediately after the rams are taken from the flocks, leaving them newly pregnant.  
“Ewes in good condition on reasonable silage will not require supplements until about 6 weeks before lambing”, says Colin. “However, thin ewes and ewes on poor silage, will need to be fed supplements earlier.”

“The number of lambs they are carrying will also dictate how much supplement is needed so scan the ewes as early as possible. That means booking the scanner now so it is available when you want it.”

When deciding how to supplement the silage or other forages there are key things to remember. Starchy supplements such as cereals are fine up to a point, but at high levels (more than half a kilo a day) they will depress the forage intake and its digestibility.

“If you need to use more than this then split it into two feeds a day” recommends Colin.

“Alternatively, a supplement with a high content of digestible fibre, such as beet pulp or soya hulls, can be used. Proprietary compounds also tend to have lower starch contents than cereals.”

Sheep, like cattle, have rumens containing millions of microbes that help digest their food. If silage has been made of grass with low protein levels, there is likely to be less than 1% crude protein for each MJ metabolisable energy, so the stock will need extra degradable protein in their ration to get the rumen microbes working effectively.

According to Colin Morgan the common sources, such as rapeseed meal and low-copper wheat, dark-grains are good. However later in pregnancy ewes require a source of digestible undegradable protein such as soya bean meal.

The key dates for Farmers to decide their feeding plans depend on when their flocks will start to lamb. Lowland flocks lamb earlier than upland and hill flocks. For guidance some key dates are provided.

Important dates for planning feeding:

Feeding Plan Dates
 Start of lambing
 6 weeks pre-lambing
 8 weeks pre-lambing
 20th Feb
 9th Jan
 26th Dec
 1st Mar
 18th Jan
 4th Jan
 15th Mar
 1st Feb
 18th Jan
 20th Mar
 16th Feb
 2nd Feb
 15th Apr
 4th Mar
 18th Feb

For further information contact Dr Colin Morgan on 0131 535 3230 (available morning of 11th December) or Specialist Sheep Consultant John Vipond on 0131 535 3215 / 07989 863874.

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