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Good reproductive performance relies on a sound management plan to account for all of the inputs the flocks needs. These can be put on the calendar and planned for to make best use of labour and other resources.
Just as important is a list of things to avoid with pregnant ewes.
Things to avoid in pregnant ewes
Avoid holding pregnant ewes off feed for more than 12 hours
Avoid catching and turning pregnant ewes for any procedure, such as crutching, shearing or trimming feet, in the last 6 weeks before lambing.
Avoid mustering and handling pregnant ewes in the last 4 weeks before lambing, except for low-stress procedures, such as vaccinating, drafting and drenching. These can be conducted up until the last two weeks before lambing, provided the ewes are not made to walk long distances.
Planning for twins, earlies and lates
Scanning and separating ewes based on condition score and pregnancy or lambing status enables better allocation of paddocks and pasture to sheep. It is more efficient to run 3-5 year old ewes together and draft on ewe condition and pregnancy status than age groups.
Suggested drafting for pregnant ewes are:
Pregnant or lactating ewes single lambs, condition score >3
Pregnant or lactating ewes, single lambs, condition score <3
Pregnant or lactating ewes, twin lambs, condition score >3
Pregnant or lactating ewes, twin lambs, condition score <3
(Source: ‘Making More From Sheep’)
Estimate feed quality
Digestibility is a useful measure of pasture quality. Digestibility is directly related to the metabolisable energy of the pasture, which is utilised for animals body functions and the rate of feed moving through an animal. Pastures with higher levels of digestibility move more rapidly through the digestive system, allowing for greater intake of feed.
Energy content is positively related to protein content. When digestibility is high, protein content will also be high, although pasture species vary in their protein content, eg. clovers are generally higher in protein than grasses.
Table 1 describes the pasture quality (digestibility) and quantity benchmarks required to meet the needs of ewes at different stages of pregnancy.
Pasture targets** (kg green DM/ha) to meet animal demand at three levels of pasture digestibility (%)
68% Digestible (volunteer or native species, 15% legume, 20% dead)
60% Digestible (dried off pasture in early summer or mature volunteer/native species)
Growing weaned lambs (% of potential growth)
Table 1 - Minimum pasture supply benchmarks to maintain satisfactory nutritional requirement levels in sheep using herbage mass. For Feed on Offer, add 300kg DM/ha to the pasture targets. (Source: Making More From Sheep manual).
* Predicted growth rates in brackets are based on a weaned 4-month old crossbred lamb of approximately 32kg from a ewe with a standard reference weight of 55kg. ** Add 300kg DM/ha to convert herbage mass pasture targets to Feed on Offer pasture targets.
Note that lamb survival is maximised on pastures that provide adequate protection from wind. This can be provided by hills, rocks, shelter belts of trees, or pastures above 15cm in height.
Strategy for managing lambing
There are three strategies commonly used in Australia. Each has its benefits but the appropriate strategy should be decided upon for each property.
Leave lambing ewes alone. This is a traditional approach in some areas. Ewes in trouble were left to die, which was a form of genetic selection. This also prevented losses due to ewes leaving their lambs to approach the vehicle, and leaving the lamb behind. Poor animal welfare may be a consequence of this approach if ewes are not prepared properly for lambing.
Checking lambs daily. This is best done in the afternoon, when ewes are settled, or twice daily on small properties. Sheep should be made accustomed to people in the lambing paddock beforehand, so they don’t approach the vehicle expecting food. Ewes in trouble can be given assistance, and tagged to indicate their history. This approach is more suited to smaller lambing paddocks and high stocking rates. It can also ensure better levels of animal welfare and ewe and lamb survival. Caution is required if ewes are not accustomed to a vehicle or people entering the paddock as they may rush the vehicle expecting feed or run away frightened. Both will result in mismotherment.
Surveillance. Observe sheep behaviour from a distance but do not disturb unless necessary. Lambing ewes being moved from one paddock to another should be left to move slowly through an opened gate over several hours. Technology such as fixed cameras or drones can be used to improve the efficiency of this strategy.
Online Farm Planner Tool
The Farm Planner is a free, easy to use, animal health scheduling tool for Sheep and Cattle with built-in best practice recommendations and customised email reminders for upcoming management activities. This means less time spent planning and a healthier more profitable livestock enterprise for you!