A DIFFICULT forage season followed by a harder winter means many ewes are facing the run up to lambing in below target condition, but it is still possible to get ewes fit enough to lamb to reduce the problems associated with lack of condition.

That was the welcoming news from Richard Dobson, regional manager with liquid feed specialists ED and F Man, who said that farmers can take advantage of molassed liquid feeds in this difficult year.

“Many farmers are short of home-grown forage with purchased forages being an expensive option. It is therefore, essential make the optimum use of available forages and this is where molassed liquid feeds can be a cost-effective feed supplement, allowing ewes to utilise the forage more effectively," he said.

Talking to farmers, he says many flocks are in below average condition, as the ewes have used more energy to maintain body condition, principally due to the challenging weather conditions. He says poor condition ewes, especially those with multiples tend to have smaller lambs which are more at risk of early mortality.

The danger is increased as the ewe herself will have a poorer milk production. Thin ewes are also more susceptible to twin lamb disease, a consequence of low energy intakes in late pregnancy.

“The good news is that there is still time for ewe condition to be improved with the keys being to optimise the use of whatever forage is available through more efficient rumen performance, combined with an effective source of rumen fermentable energy supplementation.

"Central to achieving both of these is feeding the most suitable form of sugar in the diet, not least as glucose demands increase significantly in late pregnancy with any shortfall predisposing the ewe to metabolise body fat leading to twin lamb disease.”

Mr Dobson says the addition of sucrose, a six-carbon sugar from cane molasses, will help improve rumen fermentation by boosting the microbial populations, particularly of fibre-digesting bacteria, allowing the ewe to utilise the forage more effectively.

“Molasses-based liquids are proven to improve fibre digestion in pregnant ewes, allowing then to make better use of available forages. They can also increase the palatability and acceptability of poorer quality forages, increasing intakes and reducing waste."

He added that the combination of a more efficient rumen, encouraged intakes and an effective rumen fermentable energy source, would help ewes gain condition pre-lambing and allow the ewe to produce more milk post lambing. This would lead to stronger lambs and improved daily live weight gain.

Mr Dobson also suggested Sheepmol as a specially formulated feed for pregnant and lactating ewes, combining the six-carbon sugar sucrose with glycerine which boosts glucose supply. A mineralised option is also available. Being a liquid feed it has a low substitution rate which is essential in late pregnancy when rumen space is restricted, he said.

It can be fed either top dressed, free access via a wheel or ball feeder, or as part of a mix. Inclusion with forages increases the effect it can have on forage palatability and intakes. Free access feeding via a ball feeder has been shown to reduce ewe stress and allows shy feeders an opportunity to feed.

“By introducing a molasses based supplement around 8-10 weeks before lambing it will be possible to make full use of available bulk feeds and ensure ewes hit target condition,” Mr Dobson said.