In 2023, the UK received 111% of its average annual rainfall for the last 20 years and there aren’t many shepherds or shepherdesses in the country who wouldn’t have been glad of a new pair of wellies – or perhaps waders – from Santa Claus.

With the recent wet weather and wintry conditions currently with us and in the forecast, forage availability is at the forefront of our minds. A drop in body condition at this time of year is to be expected and doesn’t cause any harm, as long as ewes were tupped in decent condition and any reduction is gradual.

The Scottish Farmer: Harbro beef and sheep nutritionist Jill HunterHarbro beef and sheep nutritionist Jill Hunter

The second and third months of pregnancy are when the embryo is most vulnerable. It is at this time the embryo becomes implanted and the placenta starts to grow. If a lack of grazing means ewes cannot meet their energy or protein demand, they may end up sacrificing lambs, resulting in poor scanning results.

If pregnancy does continue, lamb development may be impaired and lamb viability at birth will be poorer. The future fertility of unborn ewe lambs can also be affected at this stage.

Therefore, careful consideration should be given this year to ensure ewe requirements are being met. It may be as simple as supplementing with additional forage, although anecdotal stories would suggest ewes are dropping body condition more rapidly than is ideal for this stage of pregnancy.

In these cases, it is worth topping ewes up with a little compound feed or even a high-energy feed bucket, such as Energyze Vitality. Traditionally, sugar beet pulp may have been fed at this stage. However, the current cost of beet pulp and its availability makes it a less desirable option. A small quantity of ewe compound will provide the extra nutrition required, along with the additional benefit of a dose of vitamins and minerals to help maintain pregnancy.

The Scottish Farmer: Body condition score falls when ewes are heavily in lamb and in early lactationBody condition score falls when ewes are heavily in lamb and in early lactation

In the last six weeks before lambing, 70% of lamb growth happens. At this stage, not only is the lamb and fluid now restricting the size of the rumen, but the ewe’s demands for protein and energy are also dramatically increasing, therefore feed has to be nutrient dense, high quality, and beneficial to the health of the ewe and her lambs.

Trial work has shown the quicker a lamb stands and suckles, the better chance it has of survival.

In one study where ewes were supplemented with omega 3 oils before lambing, lambs were half as likely to die within the first two weeks of life. The inclusion of Sel-Plex selenium also has been shown to improve lamb survival by helping to increase shivering, mobilisation of brown fat, and production of quality colostrum, all of which help the lamb to produce heat, stay warm, and ward off hypothermia. The clever part about feeding Sel-Plex is the selenium ends up in the colostrum and the milk, where traditional selenium sources wouldn’t. This means the lamb benefits from better quality colostrum, getting it off to the best start.

Omega 3 and Sel-Plex have such an impact on lamb survivability, meaning they are both included across the Harbro range of ewe feed and Energyze Vitality lick buckets.

Not only is it important what is fed pre-lambing, it’s also important how it is fed. Ewes respond exceptionally well to being fed at precisely the same time each day and any volume over 500g should be split into twice-daily feeds. Feeding this way can help reduce the incidence of prolapses. Calibrating the snacker or other feeding kit is also important as different feeds weigh differently, depending on how energy dense they are.

All being well, the ground will be dry by lambing time and there will be plenty of fresh spring grass for ewes and lambs. Trial work shows once the grass has reached 4cm tall, there is little need to continue to offer compound feed, except for ewe hoggs with lambs at foot, which have a huge nutrient demand post-lambing.