By Poppy Frater, SAC Consulting senior sheep and grassland specialist

A ration based on good quality forage can be rumen-friendly and cost-effective – As the energy demand of ewes rises sharply in the lead up to lambing, supplement the shortfall in energy and protein to meet their needs.

Top tips to make more from forage:

1. Analyse the forage and get a ration drawn up. It is only when we know the energy and protein deficit that we can tailor the additional feeds required to meet the animal’s requirement. We can be too kind – feeding too much starchy feed ingredients will reduce rumen pH and make the rumen less efficient at extracting energy from the forage. A forage analysis and ration will help save money and ensure the ration is rumen-efficient.

2. Ensure feed access is adequate. Ad lib forage should allow for 15cm feed space per ewe. Ration calculations assume ewes can eat enough of a given silage to fill their rumens. If they don’t have this access, the basis of the ration is wrong. Some argue that they don’t all eat together, however consider the shy feeders – they only get access after all the best stuff is gone. Trough feeding should allow 45-50cm per ewe. If access to hard feed in insufficient, those pushy ewes will get more starchy feeds than they require which will affect rumen pH.

3. Don’t feed mouldy silage to ewes. Pregnant ewes need the best quality forage available. They demand high energy density and are very sensitive to pathogens in mouldy silage. Consider how much we are asking from them, they often lamb over 10% of their bodyweight; under this nutritional pressure, their immune system is compromised. This is the time to really treat them well.

4. Use raddle marks and scanning information to target the feeding. The energy demand of a twin-bearing ewe two weeks pre lambing is a third greater that of the same ewe six weeks pre-lambing. A triplet-bearing ewe requires 14% greater energy and 9% greater protein than a twin-bearing ewe in the last week of pregnancy. Targeted feeding for litter size and stage of pregnancy will save costs and avoid the risks associated with overfeeding.

5. Consider what can be done next year to improve the forage provision in the diet. If lambing March or earlier – the emphasis is on good quality silage in 2020 with early cutting dates. Those lambing later should aim to make more from grazed grass. Lambing date should coincide with grass growth on the farm, lambing fields should be rested over winter and the winter dormant grass should be grazed in March to promote spring growth.

Better utilisation of forage in the diet is never easy – from making quality silage to supplementing the protein and energy shortfalls – it is tempting to resort to high concentrate feeding where we can have more control. However, ewes are ruminants, make the most of what they are designed to eat for the benefit of their health and your bottom line.