Feeding for lifetime performance

As we approach this lambing season, maximising ewe health and lamb survival will be crucial – as rising input costs, along with challenging weather conditions throughout 2023, have put further pressure on margins. Rumenco offers some guidance.

Neonatal lamb losses have significant financial implications, with each case costing approximately £25. Producers should be seeking to minimise these losses wherever possible, with a target of <5% lamb losses from birth to turnout (AHDB).

Pre-lambing nutrition is a major contributor to flock profitability, with impacts on ewe health, lamb viability and even the future reproductive potential of lambs. The final six weeks of pregnancy places significant nutritional stress on the ewe as she prepares for lactation.

During this period, exponential growth of the lambs restricts rumen size, causing a drop in feed intake of around 30%. At the same time, energy and protein requirements increase by approximately 60% and 35%. This year, we may see that feed intakes are challenged more than usual.

Whilst forage stocks are plentiful, quality is largely reduced compared to previous years, with silage cuts being less digestible due to higher levels of indigestible fibre, or lignin. This could increase the risk of issues such as twin lamb disease and hypocalcemia if diets are not supplemented appropriately. Undertaking a forage analysis to determine feeding value is very important.

Table 1 demonstrates the impact of forage quality on the ability to meet a ewe’s energy requirement three weeks prior to lambing.

Meeting energy and protein requirements during late pregnancy is vital to maintain body condition, support udder development, foetal growth and colostrum production. Even small deficiencies during this period can compromise colostrum and milk yield and the maternal bond; ultimately reducing lamb survival rates. A good supply of bypass protein, or DUP, is also important, with research showing this helps to increase colostrum quality (Amanlou, H, et al., 2011) and udder development.

Rumenco’s Lifeline Lamb & Ewe bucket is specifically formulated for feeding during the final six weeks of pregnancy. High levels of energy (13 ME) and protein (12%), including a good supply of by-pass protein, are included to support foetal growth, lambing ease and colostrum production.

A good intake of immunoglobulins (IgG) from colostrum is essential to provide initial protection against infectious disease and is directly linked to lamb survival. Offering Lifeline Lamb & Ewe has been shown to increase colostrum IgG levels by up to 25% (Zinpro Performance Minerals).

Ensuring that the correct balance of minerals, vitamins and trace elements is provided during late pregnancy is also crucial to support lifetime health and performance. Selenium and vitamin E are particularly important for both ewe and lamb immune functioning and colostrum quality, whilst iodine and selenium are required for brown fat mobilisation.

table on forage quality on lambing livestock farming article
Table 1: Impact of forage quality on potential energy contribution for a twin bearing ewe three weeks pre-lambing.

Lifeline Lamb & Ewe contains the full package of these vital nutrients. Complex carbohydrates mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) and beta glucans are also included to further support the ewe’s immune system so she can maximise nutrient partitioning into colostrum production.

It also comes with the added benefit of Availa Zinc, a highly available, organic form of zinc proven to support lifetime performance. Feeding Availa Zinc in late pregnancy has been shown to increase milk yields in early lactation (Zinpro Performance Minerals), resulting in higher lamb growth rates in the first 10 weeks of life (Kegley, EB & Spears, JW., 1995).

In farm trials, feeding Lifeline buckets containing Availa Zinc reduced neonatal lamb losses by 7.5% (Rumenco trial, 2020). Whatever quality forage is available, offering Lifeline Lamb & Ewe from four to six weeks prior to lambing will help to ensure a successful lambing season.

Full references are available on request.

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