Be careful not to overcook your ewes

For large parts of NSW, above average rainfall in March and April has seen a dramatic turn-around in seasonal conditions. From a livestock perspective, the good start means that stock have been putting on valuable condition and graziers in many areas of the state are likely to have above average paddock feed this winter.

Sheep and lambs in a paddock. Photo CSIRO

Photo CSIRO.

However, Agricultural Advisor with Local Land Services, Matt Lieschke, warns that for some livestock producers the next couple of months could bring some heartache if early action is not taken.

“While it’s great to finally see a good autumn, good seasons bring their own set of challenges.” Matt said.

“In 2014 the south-eastern part of the state had a similar start to the season and there were all sorts of issues such as prolapse, foot abscess, dystocia and heavy ewes going down in the lead up to lambing. All these issues stem back to overfat ewes”.

The critical thing for sheep producers is to check ewe condition as this will determine what action needs to be taken.

“At present, ewes grazing highly digestible green pasture could be putting on 0.8 – 1.0kg a week.

“If ewes are already in good condition (e.g. 3 score), there is a risk that they could be a 4 score in 6 to 8 weeks if action is not taken.

We really want to avoid Merino ewes exceeding Fat Score 3.5 at lambing (Fat Score 4.0 for X bred ewes).”

Early action is key, and the only real option is to limit weight gain through managing pasture height.

“If the aim is to maintain ewe condition, this involves grazing those high-quality pastures down and limiting ewes to around 500 – 600kg DM/ha (1.5 - 2cm high).

“If you are aiming for slight weight gain, these targets might be increased to 800 – 900kg (2.5 – 3.0cm). Therefore, your pasture target will depend on fat score. The higher the fat score, the more important it is to act early and to a greater extent”.

Whatever nutritional ‘hand brake’ you chose to apply, at some point it needs to be released. For twin bearing ewes the pressure needs to be eased 4 weeks prior to lambing. At this point the minimum pasture target increases to around 800 – 900kg/ha. For single ewes the pressure could be maintained until 10 days out from lambing.

Foot abscess in twin bearing ewes is of major concern at present - a condition exacerbated by overweight ewes grazing in lush, wet conditions. Ewes that develop foot abscess in late pregnancy are at risk of developing pregnancy toxaemia and dying. Single bearing merino ewes that have been joined to a terminal sire is the other major risk group, with lambs getting too big.

“If you do not scan it would be best to treat your mobs as though they all have twins and keep feed under control until the last month of pregnancy” said Matt.

In terms of minimising feet issues, it’s important to keep stock away from muddy yards.

“Where possible, keep stock away from sheds and yards during the month prior to lambing. If you need to do a pre-lambing drench or vaccination, consult with your local vet or advisor and put a plan in place.

“With the price of stock at present, and the amount of expense and effort getting them through the drought, the last thing you want is to lose stock in the coming months”.

ENDS

Media contact: Dave Michael, South East Local Land Services, 0418 513 880

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