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  • Coopworth Breeding Stock
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  • Feeding in Late Gestation

    by Martha McGrath

    Below is a link to;
    Nutrient Requirements of Sheep (an Online Book)

    Feeding the ewe correctly in late gestation and early lactation is extremely important to ensure the birth of healthy lambs, and that the ewe will have plenty of milk to feed them.

    An article by Gary Ricketts of the University of IL in the Nov. 2000 issue of The Shepherd has tables giving the amount of hay, shelled corn, and soybean meal to feed ewes at different stages of production, with different body weights, and different protein levels in the hay. I find these tables very helpful, and have inserted one here;


    There are many other wonderful resources on the internet, see some of our favorites at Sheep Links

    For instance, from the Montana Farm Flock Sheep Production Handbook
    "The last six weeks of gestation is the most critical period in ewe nutrition. During this period approximately 70 percent of the fetal growth occurs. Poor nutrition during late pregnancy will cause lighter lambs at birth, uneven birth weights in twin and triplet born lambs, reduced wool follicle development and low energy reserves in the new born lamb. Lowered energy reserves in the newborn lamb will result in increased lamb losses especially in colder weather. Severe under nutrition will lead to pregnancy toxemia and possibly ewe death."

    "After lambing, the feed allowance of the ewe should be increased according to her needs. A ewe will usually reach maximum milk production by two to three weeks after parturition. Milk production generally declines fairly rapidly thereafter. Assuming the ewe has the capacity to produce milk, she will produce at this level only if challenged by the lambs nursing her. Since single lambs normally are not able to consume all of the ewe's milk, the ewe will adjust her milk production downward to the level the lamb is consuming. Ewes nursing multiple lambs will produce 20 to 40 percent more milk than those nursing singles and thus have greater nutritional requirements. For maximum rate and efficiency of lamb gains, it is desirable to separate ewes with multiple lambs from ewes with singles and feed each according to their nutritional needs. Milk is critical in the first 3 to 4 weeks of the lamb's life and in this period the correlation between milk intake and live weight gain is approximately .90. A ewe suckling two lambs growing at .6 pounds per day is as productive as a dairy cow yielding 65 pounds of milk per day. To prevent loss of her body tissue, daily intakes of over 7.2 Mcal. of metabolizable energy (three times maintenance) are required. In practice this cannot be achieved. As in high producing dairy cows, it is impossible to feed a high producing ewe enough feed to prevent body weight loss during early lactation. Fortunately early lactation is a period in which body fat can safely be used to meet some of the high energy demands of lactation. During this period a loss in body condition score of 1.0 is quite acceptable, provided she was in proper body condition at lambing (3.5+). However, the ewe must have sufficient reserves of body fat to mobilize and use for milk production. Fat can only be used efficiently for milk synthesis if the ewe is absorbing adequate amounts of amino acids from her diet. Thus, protein intake is critical during this period if maximum milk production is to be achieved in high milk producing ewes. Thus protein as well as energy is critical in a ewe's diet during early lactation."

    In "Ewe Nutrition" Keily Clark, Charlene Pearce, and Alan Duttlin write; "Late gestation is a very important time nutritionally for ewes. Ewes need adequate nutrition for fetal growth and mammary tissue synthesis. Inadequate nutrition leads to weak lambs, low milk, and increased death loss. Ewes need to be gaining between 0.3 to 0.5 lbs per day. This can be done by feeding higher quality forages or supplementing with a grain ration. Mineral feeding is the most critical during late gestation."

    See Also;
    Management and Nutrition of Lactating Ewe and Young Lambs
    High-Producing Ewes- A Nutritional Overview



    The November 2008 issue of Shepherd Magazine has an excellent article on page 24 called "Pre-Lambing Management of Ewes" by Dr. Lowell Breeden of KSU.

    The main points of the article are;
    4-6 weeks before lambing-

  • Shear or crutch ewes
  • Condition score ewes
  • Increase grain
  • Watch ewes for signs of metabolic illnesses
  • Vaccinate ewes against Clostridium Perfringes Type C&D plus Tetanus
  • Treat ewes for parasites
  • Feed a cocidiostat
  • Give ewes a Selenium/Vitamin E injection- Dr. Breeden found that reports of abortion in pregnant ewes after having received such injections had not been found to be valid in his experience.
  • Do not give Vitamin A injections at the same time as Selenium/Vitamin E, as the vitamin A interferes with the Selenium.

  • Jim and Martha Behneman McGrath
    178 Lough Rd.
    Franklin, WV, 26807