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Winter ewe management

If you look after your ewes through this winter, you will be rewarded with more lambs on the ground come spring. Here are some management practices you should keep front of mind, as we head into the new year. 

Get your housing in order

Unless you’re outdoor lambing, this is one of the most obvious concerns for winter ewe management. It is important ewes have enough space to prevent overcrowding, which can lead to reduced performance. AHDB’s ‘Reducing lamb losses for Better Returns’ recommends a 60-90 kilogram ewe has 1.2-1.4m2 space during pregnancy and 2.0-2.2m2 when with lambs (reduced by 10% for shorn sheep).

Set up pens to provide optimum feeding space and to allow easy cleaning – of both the pens and feeding troughs. Make sure you have sufficient lighting to inspect stock and where possible, have pens set aside for sick or injured animals to stop disease spreading through the flock.

Clean, dry bedding reduces the risk of health problems, so make sure you have an adequate supply of straw. Good ventilation also plays an important role in reducing airborne diseases, and helps prevent ewes becoming overheated and stressed.

Consider winter shearing

Winter shearing can increase forage DMI and increase lamb birth weight and survival. It allows more ewes to be housed at once, which is valuable on farms with limited housing.

Disadvantages to weigh up include the cost of additional shearing and wool storage, the risk of oversized single lambs and concerns for ewe welfare in extreme winter weather. It is recommended you shear no less than eight weeks before lambing, to allow decent regrowth of wool before turnout.

Pregnancy scan your ewes

Scanning at around 70 days from mating identifies empty ewes or indicates the number of lambs a ewe is carrying. This allows you to cull empties and group other ewes according to their nutritional needs, to better allocate feed.

Comparing lambing percentages against your scanning results will alert you to problems with your management practices. If there is a significant drop off, a review of animal nutrition, health planning and handling methods will be necessary.

Check body condition score regularly

Keeping track of your ewes’ body condition scores (BCS) throughout their pregnancy is a simple and effective way to ensure they are progressing well. Checking BCS at least monthly will help to reduce lamb losses.

AHDB recommends that ewes are maintained at their target BCS for 90 days from tupping to help fertilisation, implantation and placenta development. BCS targets at mid-pregnancy are 2.5 for hill ewes 3-3.5 for lowland ewes. See the Better Returns Programme’s ‘Feeding the ewe’ for more information on body condition scoring techniques and targets.

Get blood and feed samples tested

To get more healthy lambs on the ground and lower neonatal mortality, it’s worthwhile having both feed and ewe blood samples analysed.

You can get your silages analysed to learn which has the best nutritional content. That feed should be set aside for the final five to six weeks of gestation. A vet can blood test a sample group of ewes, around a month before lambing, to look at beta-hydroxybutyrate (BOHB) and urea levels. High BOHB can indicate an animal is using up its energy reserves and needs additional feed energy, while low levels of blood urea indicate a diet short of protein.

By knowing exactly where your animals stand in terms of nutrition and what feed you have to see them through to lambing, you can rectify shortcomings before they become a problem. 

Ensure you have accurate records

Finally, like all farm operations, ewe performance can be better reviewed and improved upon with good record keeping. By tracking all your inputs, including feeds and treatments, along with animal weight gains, you can better identify weaknesses in your operation, and improve upon them. 

To find out how AgriWebb can help you keep accurate, up-to-date records, and help you reach your management goals, start your free trial today or contact Josh Brock on  0772 350 4669 to book a demo to see how we can help.

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