Feed requirements for ewes can vary widely throughout the production cycle. To achieve the best performance and good health of ewes, the proper quantity and type of feed must be provided at the right times. Investing in proper nutrition for pregnant and lactating ewes saves time and money in the long run and is vital to the success of the flock.
The final six weeks of gestation are when a developing fetus gains around two-thirds of its birth weight. Because of this, the ewe's nutritional needs—for both energy and protein—increase throughout this period. During late gestation nutrition is important, ewes should be supplemented to meet increased nutrition demands for the added fetal growth and to allow the ewe to produce adequate quality and quantity colostrum. The energy consumption during this stage will affect milk production as well as lamb weight and vigour. Approximately 70% of fetal growth happens during this stage, therefore it is crucial to pay special attention to the ewes’ feed requirements during the last six weeks of gestation.
The ewes’ feed requirements will depend on several factors such as the number of lambs being carried by the ewe and the ewe’s body condition. During this stage is when the ewes will require significantly more dietary energy and protein than earlier in early gestation. During late gestation as the fetus grows, the ewes’ rumen space decreases as well as subsequently reducing appetite by up to 30%. Feed concentrates are often necessary to meet the increased energy demands during this stage of gestation, especially for ewes carrying multiple lambs. If forage quality is low, providing a supplemental source of protein and calcium may be required. If needed, the ewes may be classified according to age, body condition, and the number of fetuses and divided into groups for different treatments.
Body Condition of Ewes
Ewes that are in good body condition before lambing have healthier lambs and fewer complications in comparison to underweight or overweight ewes. Feeding ewes well during the last 6 to 8 weeks of gestation is important to minimize ewe body condition loss. This minimizes the risk of ewe metabolic disorders and helps with good colostrum and subsequent milk production. Avoid underfeeding in the late gestation stage, which could produce lambs with low brown fat, light or weak lambs at birth or higher ewe lamb mortality.
Most ewes do not need supplementary concentrate feed until 6 to 8 weeks before lambing. Supplementary feeding at this stage of gestation is vital to meet the additional nutritional demands being placed on the ewes. Care should be taken not to overfeed young ewes or those carrying single lambs as this can cause large lambs and overweight ewes, which could lead to birthing difficulties. On the contrary, ewes carrying triplets will require more concentrate feed to produce viable lambs.
Important nutrients during late gestation are energy, protein, selenium, vitamin E and calcium. Ewes that are supplemented with protein or concentrates in late pregnancy may produce more colostrum and cause improved lamb survival.
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