The prolonged rainfall the country is experiencing is a common problem for all farmers, with the southern regions hardest hit by the wet weather continuing into April.

The Met Office reported 27% more rainfall UK-wide in March, and with winter forage and bedding stocks depleting, and stock numbers increasing as lambing progresses, many housed units will soon be faced with no other option but to turn out.

Many others without winter housing are already dealing with grazing in the wet weather.

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Every livestock farm is different, with individual systems, challenges, and topography to deal with, all of which can affect the decisions made when grazing spring pasture.

The SRUC beef and sheep research unit at Easter Howgate is currently lambing this batch of ewes indoors. However, space is depleting, a story familiar to many.

The next batch of ewes will soon start with limited access to housing at the hill unit.

“The few ewes and lambs that we have managed to get out have not had the easiest of starts. It was the obvious choice when choosing a field to turnout ewes and lambs in this weather to pick a field with a good area for shelter for protection against the weather,” said John Lamb, head shepherd at Easter Howgate.

“This was great for the first couple of days. However, the constant driving rain soon caused the sheltered area to poach due to heavy traffic. It was becoming obvious that ewes were subsequently spending more time sheltering and less time grazing, limiting milk supply and causing lamb development to go backwards.

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“Additional supplementation was offered to try to keep energy supply up.

“The ewes and lambs have since been moved to a less sheltered field with knowes, which provide a drier lie, and a few dips creating shelter. A marked improvement has been seen in their development. Certainly, a lesson learned for the future,” he added.

This is a situation that many sheep farmers are finding themselves in this year. However, there are a few steps that can be considered to support ewes and lambs throughout this difficult season:

Consider adding an element of mob or rotational grazing to allow for a greater period of rest and improve utilisation.

For ewes and lambs, splitting a field or using a field close by is essential to mitigate the difficulties in moving young stock.

A few smaller areas of shelter may be more beneficial than one shelter belt to stop ewes crowding and poaching the only area for shelter. In an open field, some bales or tattie boxes can provide some shelter areas.

A sacrifice area can also be beneficial to protect grazing and feed out additional forage without any poaching.

If a sacrifice area is not possible, try to avoid feeding in one area. Moving the feed area regularly or feeding in the driest part of the field will reduce poaching in a large area and help to minimise potential foot issues.

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Additional supplementation is recommended to reduce the grazing pressure and ensure needs are met. While time grazing may be restricted, a minimum of 12.5ME and 16-18% crude protein with grass in lactation.

When supplementing ewes, ensure no single feed is more than 0.5kg and keep feeding times consistent to prevent acidosis. This is particularly important if forage intakes are compromised by weather.

Ewes are at an increased risk of staggers, particularly due to the wet weather reducing intakes. The lush spring grass with the highest risk area around peak lactation is 30-40 days post-lambing. Ewes will require between 3-5g of magnesium a day in lactation, particularly during times of stress. A mineralised feed of home mix with 1% per tonne calcium magnesite (cal-mag) or a 10-15% magnesium, free access mineral or block can help support against this risk.


Doing the utmost to ensure the needs of ewes and lambs are met now, even though it seems everything is against us, is crucial for lifetime performance.

“If the weather improves lambs will no doubt begin to thrive again but it’s not only the short-term repercussions we must worry about. It’s also what happens in the long run, with lifetime performance and weaning weights potentially compromised if we do not do the best by them now,” concluded John.