Ewe management tips for every season

Apr 24, 2023

Written by Todd Steen, ProTrition Nutritionist

Providing ewes with optimal nutrition at the key times throughout their productive biological cycle is essential to having the most productive flock.

For spring lambing ewes, now is the time to make sure the gestating ewe is in good body condition. During early to mid-gestation as placental development occurs, gestating ewes require additional nutrition. Maintaining bodyweight is important throughout this phase. It’s also critical during the last four to six weeks of pregnancy as proper nutrition will impact lamb birthweight and lambing dystocia (difficult births typically caused by a large or awkwardly positioned fetus, by the smallness of the maternal pelvis, or by the failure of the uterus and cervix to contract and expand normally), lamb performance, colostrum quantity and quality, and potential milk production.

Additionally, some two-thirds of fetal growth will occur during the final gestation period, and because of this growth, the ewe’s energy requirement becomes increasingly important. Ewes carrying a single lamb need at least 50% more energy than in early gestation, and multiple lambs increase the energy needs of the ewe by around 25% more than single lambs. Forage is the important base of the ewe’s diet. Pre-lambing ewes should be offered the best forage available. Supplementing ewes with a modest amount of feed, however, will be necessary to meet all nutritional requirements, because even in colder weather, forage consumption will not be adequate. As a rule of thumb, ewes with expected lamb crops of up to 150% will need a 16% crude protein ewe feed at the rate of approximately 1.0 – 1.5 lbs. per head per day; expected lamb crops of up to 200% should offer approximately 2.0 lbs. per head per day. While it is difficult to know the specific percent lamb crop, not meeting nutritional requirements will yield greater lambing problems and reduced milk production. Nutrients important during mid to late gestation are energy, protein, calcium, selenium, and vitamin E.

Consider the following guidelines for ewes before lambing:

• Evaluate the overall health of the animal.
• Make sure ewes are in proper body condition for lambing/lactation.
• If ewes are thin, consider offering approximately 1.0 lb. of 16% crude protein in addition to high-quality forage or hay.
• Consult with a veterinarian for specific animal health/vaccination/parasite protocols.
• Take time to evaluate hooves and wool. Shearing may be necessary. If the weather is cold, consider providing additional feed after shearing to combat exposure. Evaluate for lice, ticks, etc.

• Evaluate facilities/equipment before lambing.
• Be prepared for lambing by day 145 since exposure to rams.
• Consider vitamin/selenium injection if white muscle disease has been an issue.
• Increase feed offering to approximately 2.0 lbs. per head per day.

Co-op Feed specialists can aid in ration balancing and assist with all your sheep nutrition and lambing needs. All Co-op feed products are formulated specifically for sheep to ensure proper nutrient availability. Learn more about Co-op Feeds at a Co-op near you!

For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator

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