Lambing thoughts With the worst of the winter hopefully past and bank accounts and heads recovering after the festive period, those with sheep are either battling to ensure early lambs are thriving or wondering how their later lambing ewes will do.

The pre-Christmas shortage of lambs, due to the bad weather, has now levelled off. Prices have, as a result, eased back, but exports still remain strong and the exchange rate continues to make the UK a favourable source of lamb for Europe. The sheep sector still has some major positives driving it at the moment which should encourage people to try to maximise their lamb crop.

For those of you that are still to lamb, late pregnancy is when 85% of foetal growth takes place so it is vital that the plane of nutrition is increased as intakes also begin to reduce as the lamb grows inside the ewe, reducing the size of the ewe’s rumen.

Poorer quality forages should be changed for better quality stuff to help develop lambs of good birth weight. Trial work has shown that in twins, moving births weights from 2.5kgs to 3.5kgs reduced lamb mortality four-fold back to less than 10%. A key reason for the reduction in mortality is an improvement in vigour of heavier lambs, coupled with improved colostrum quality due to better ewe nutrition. In order to ensure the best start for your lamb crop and maximise vigour there are a few key aspects to consider: q A lot of you will have scanned your flock by now so will have some idea of your lambing percentage. A classic response when questioned what is your lambing percentage is 150%, but while this may be an indication of your flock’s overall lambing performance, in reality an ewe can only have a lambing percentage of 100%, 200% or if you’re lucky 300%. Group and feed ewes accordingly, a rule of thumb would be 0.5kg per ewe per lamb carried. q Know what quality forage you are feeding. With an improved silage making season in 2010 forages are generally better quality than last winter, which has already shown itself in the increased milk from forage figures from the dairy sector. The key message is to get it tested and know what base you’re working from. If you think it’s ‘good stuff’ but in reality it’s only 8ME significantly more supplementation will be required.

q Cheap feed is a false economy. With typical feed rates of say 35kg per ewe over the ten weeks around lambing, an increase of £25/tonne in compound value still only equates to a £1 per ewe extra feed cost. So think about what you require nutritionally in a feed, and not what it costs.

At this time of year many different sheep compound formulations will be doing the rounds.

As a guide, the only advice I would give is this: High starch diets with wheat, barley and maize will provide good useable energy sources and help reduce the cases of twin lamb. Also, look for good quality protein sources, soya bean meal is still one of the best ewe feeds available, and will give good colostrum quality and milk yield.

Megalac, a protected palm-based fat, also ensures good energy density, essential with multiple births.

I appreciate these types of diets will be significantly dearer than ones full of ‘fillers’, but the benefits of improved lamb growth and mortality more than outway the difference. Finally, look at the vitamin E levels. A minimum level of 100iu/kg is essential to give newborn lambs the vigour they require. Vitamin E is an expensive ingredient, but reduced rates are foolish. Top-end ewe compounds will range from 100-150, just have a look at your feed label ticket.