A slow start to spring growth followed by a dry spell has challenged grass production throughout much of Scotland and as growth declines in the early weeks of summer, sheep producers approaching weaning will need to alter management procedures to ensure flock nutritional requirements are met.

That is the view of Dr Alison Bond, nutritionist for Rumenco, who says the lack of dry matter availability is going to create grazing competition.

“For lambs, this will result in reduced growth rates, which will have a long-term impact on their finishing time. For ewes, competing with and feeding lambs will take a toll on body condition score (BCS), which will be harder to recover ahead of tupping time.”

To take pressure off ewes and to better manage lamb nutrition, Dr Bond recommends producers wean as early as possible with lambs taking priority of quality forage.

“Standard practice is to wean lambs at a target weight of 30kg at 12 weeks of age. This is especially important for lambs that are going to be retained for breeding. However, if lambs weigh 16kg and have access to good forage, then they can be weaned and still maintain daily growth rates,” she says.

To avoid a check in liveweight gains commonly seen at weaning, she also recommends that weaned lambs are supplemented with a high energy and protein feed and mineral block.

“Lambs that wean through stressful conditions, such as drought, and have a change in diet will often have a decline in daily liveweight gain. While it may not seem like a huge concern, data shows that a 10% reduction in growth through the weaning period will permanently reduce adult production – whether than be hitting BCS for entering the breeding flock or finishing times,” explains Dr Bond.

Providing lambs with a balance of nutrient-rich ingredients, feed blocks stimulate the rumen to work harder by fuelling and increasing the rumen bug population. This results in up to a 10% improvement in forage intake and digestion.

For both finishing lambs and flock replacements, Dr Bond recommends supplementing with Rumevite Quality Lamb, which has proven to accelerate daily liveweight gain. In a study at Plumpton College in Sussex, lambs supplemented with the feed block had an average a daily liveweight gain of 189g, finishing in 45 days at a liveweight of 36.7kg. Despite having a 300g advantage at the start of the trial, lambs that did not receive supplementation only gained 94.3g/day and finished in 83 days at 36.3kg.

“Supplemented lambs reached finishing weights 38 days sooner than the control group – setting them up for early markets and significantly reducing grazing pressure from the entire farm,” says Dr Bond.

While ewe nutritional requirements begin to steadily decline four weeks post lambing after reaching peak lactation, weaning needs to be timed to allow for BCS recovery prior to tupping. Typically, a 70kg lowland ewe will have a BCS of 2.5 at weaning and a 50kg hill ewe will have a BCS of 2.0. In normal years, producers can increase BCS scores by 1.0 to have ewes ready for tupping within 10 weeks of lambing.

To ensure ewes are optimising dry matter availably and meeting energy and protein requirements, Dr Bond recommends supplementing with Rumevite High Energy and Protein post weaning, and then transitioning ewes to Rumevite Sheep Super Energy Plus Fish Oil two weeks prior to tupping.

“Ewes will benefit from the 10% increase in forage utilisation and also receive minerals, vitamins and trace elements that are essential for good health and overall performance,” says Dr Bond. “The combination of omega 3 fatty acids from the fish oil with selenium, cobalt and zinc will give fertility a boost – increasing lambing percentages by up to 22%.”