Sheep farmers need to pay close attention to ewe nutrition in the lead-up to, and immediately post-tupping, due to the significant impact this period can have on flock productivity.

Neil Ashwell, head of agriculture at Brinicombe Agri, the direct to farm arm of the Brinicombe Group, says that incremental improvements in the number of viable lambs born can make a huge difference to profitability.

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“A focus on nutrition can provide a key opportunity to boost lambing percentages and forms a crucial piece of the jigsaw when it comes to preparing ewes for tupping,” says Mr Ashwell.

Everything about pre-tupping nutrition is focused on improving the energy status of the ewe.

“Recommended energy intake doubles during this time, so ewes should be on a rising plane of nutrition at lease four to six-weeks prior to introducing the ram, then for a further three-week period after. This is to ensure the successful implantation of embryos, as 15-30% of eggs can be lost during this time,” he says.

“There’s also a requirement for essential minerals, vitamins and trace elements. For example, manganese and iodine collectively support ewe fertility and conception, with iodine being an essential element in preventing foetal re-absorption.”

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Buckets are a popular choice for supplementing ewes around tupping, but they can vary considerably. Mr Ashwell outlines some things to consider when selecting a pre-tupping bucket.

“Look out for a salt or seaweed-based bucket, concentrated with minerals, trace elements and vitamins. Intakes of these types of buckets are typically lower than highly molassed buckets and are consumed by the ewe for need not greed, making it a more cost-effective option.”

He highlights the liver’s role in regulating hormones and says supplements that support liver function can also prove beneficial during this time.

“Acetona is a key component of Tubby® Tupping buckets. It helps improve liver function, stimulates liver glucose production and helps the ewe utilise her own fat reserves. In combination with high sugars and phosphorus levels, this all helps to elevate the energy status of the ewe.”

Nutritional supplements aren’t however a substitute for correct tupping management and good ewe health. According to Mr Ashwell, the fundamentals need to be in place first to maximise the benefits of heightened nutrition.

‘Ewes need to be in good overall health. Any underlying disease, including lameness will impact fertility,” he says.

“Ewe age and body condition are also important factors. Typically, lowland ewes should be condition score 3 and hill ewes at 2.5-3, and on a rising plane of nutrition. The ram is equally important and should be at condition score 3.5-4.

“Finally, don’t overlook ewe to ram ratio. This will depend on variables such as the age of rams and ewes, the breed, and whether ewes have been synchronised.”

With subsidy payments set to drop off over the next four years, Mr Ashwell believes it’s crucial to maximise every opportunity to increase on-farm productivity.

“The tupping period sets the foundations for successful lambing and is a key time to influence for those looking to improve productivity and ultimately the bottom line,” he concludes.