By Poppy Frater, SRUC senior sheep and grassland specialist

In the last six weeks of pregnancy, a triplet bearing ewe requires 10% more energy than their twin counterparts. They need greater nutrition to improve chance of survival for themselves and their offspring.

It is a challenge to meet the nutritional needs of triplet bearing ewes due to the greater pressure the uterus exerts on the rumen. For this reason, nutrient dense rations are recommended. For those on conserved forage-based rations, triplet ewes should get the best quality forage available and this should be supplemented with good quality concentrates.

For those lambing later, at grass, studies have shown that, providing grass height is above 4cm, there is no benefit of additional feeding, although this is dependent on the ewes being in good condition.

Triplet lambing ewes carry the risk of small lambs, lambing difficulty, and insufficient colostrum. The additional nutritional strain also increases likelihood of their own mortality too. This puts greater emphasis on quality nutrition.

Where practical, they should be managed in a separate group for targeted nutrition from scanning time, perhaps with lean twins if necessary. They should be condition scored and fed to gain condition if lean. Weight gain during this time is associated with heavier lamb birth weights – an important contributor to lamb survival in triplet ewes. Adequate feed space (more than 45cm for trough feeding or 15cm for ad-lib forage) is important for all ewes, especially the triplet group.

Mismothering issues are greater with triplets. Mismothering can end up being a dominant cause of lamb mortality – reuniting a wandering lamb with the ewe is more dependent on the lamb finding the busy mother rather than the other way round. For this reason, keep group sizes as small as possible.

Triplet bearing ewes take longer to lamb which is stressful on the ewe and can result in slow lambs – both affect the all-important colostrum consumption by the lamb. Other issues that affect lambing process are disturbances and competition with other ewes, therefore check they have sufficient lying space (1.2-1.4m2) and are in the least disturbed areas.

After birth, most will remove a lamb to be fostered on to another ewe or put in with the pet lambs. The lightest lamb is generally the best one to select for this as they tend to intake the least milk and have poorer survival chances.

Triplet-bearing ewes rarely produce sufficient colostrum for three lambs, ideally supplement with colostrum from another ewe in the flock or purchase a good quality colostrum. They will be most prone to infectious disease so be vigilant and treat if necessary. Some ewes can rear three lambs – these ewes would benefit from creep feeding or specialist herb forage crops.

Triplets can seem like more pain than they are worth, but with favourable lamb prices in recent years and the potential negative impact on the ewes themselves – they are worth the extra effort to manage them well. Consider genetics and flushing management in future years if they are proving too challenging for your system.