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Ewe winter feed

Feed demand is on the increase across the region with many ewes in late pregnancy to early lactation stage. If this demand is to be met by pasture alone ewes will be requiring between 700 (late pregnant), 1,000 (single lamb) and 1,500 (twins) kilograms of dry matter/ hectare of green feed of 75% digestibility.

Preparation of lambing paddocks to deliver feed of this quality and quantity has been very difficult, especially with unimproved pastures and given the autumn that we experienced this year. Some winter grazing crops, experienced early growth and may be close to providing adequate feed for ewes.  However many, and particularly the later sown crops, are still slow growing.

Pasture growth rates on the Monaro tend to start picking up in late August.  This year soil moisture will not be limiting growth in early spring, so the arrival of clear sunny weather and warmer conditions will spark the needed pasture growth.

If you are caught short for feed what are your options?  Supplementary feeding is the most obvious way to fill in the feed gap.  There is a wide range of available feeds including wheat, barley and other grains, roughages like hay and silage, and a variety of specialist products.  It is essential that you know what element of a diet is missing.  This will help choose the correct supplement.  Hay and silage will not adequately overcome an energy deficiency in current conditions. The amount of supplementary feed required will be a function of the stage of pregnancy/lactation, the amount of pasture in the paddock, ewe condition and number of progeny.

Twin bearing ewes have much higher energy demands and need to be carefully managed, particularly if they are in poor condition (i.e. fat score 2.5 or below).  Where pasture is short (i.e. 1-2 cm in height), twin bearing merino ewes in early lactation will need around 0.8-1.0 kg/head/day of barley.  For first cross ewes this increases to around 1.3-1.5 kg/head/day.

Generally speaking, supplementary feeds should be slowly introduced to stock to allow their gut flora to adapt and change over a period of weeks.  A rapid introduction of some feeds such as wheat and barley can result in acidosis and rapid death.

Failure to provide sufficient feed can also result in pregnancy toxaemia in ewes and underweight lambs with poor survival.  If you have questions about preventing/treating grain poisoning and pregnancy toxaemia please contact Petrea Wait, South East Local Land Services District Veterinarian on 02 6452 1122 or 0427 006 343.

Some feeds such as lupins and dried distillers grain do not require such careful introduction and can be useful for emergency feeding situations. Hay as a stand-alone supplementary feed may not provide sufficient energy and protein to meet pregnant and lactating ewe requirements.  If you have questions about feeding livestock please contact Matt Lieschke, South East Local Land Services Livestock Officer on 02 4824 1913 or 0428 271 127.

Growing additional pasture would be ideal at this time of year, however conditions don’t naturally promote such growth.  Gibberellic acid is a plant hormone that is produced in plant roots and promotes the lengthening of plant shoots and leaves.  It is also available in a commercial form and is used widely in the horticulture and diary industries.  It has been shown to increase yield in pastures during winter, however best results with this product are achieved when soil nutrients are non-limiting and pastures are not stressed (such as waterlogged or frosted).

Application of gibberellic acid right now may or may not be warranted in our current climatic conditions.  Results will vary greatly depending on a pasture’s underlying soil fertility.  A pasture applied with gibberellic acid will still take time to respond and grow and if we have an early onset of spring, this growth may occur naturally.

Planning out your pasture systems well ahead of lambing times can help to prevent significant feed shortages.  In addition, managing pastures to ensure adequate soil fertility can also help promote additional pasture growth throughout the year and minimise the feed gaps

South East Local Land Services offers courses such as PROGRAZE and soil fertility workshops to help landholders develop skills in feed budgeting, managing soil fertility and improving pasture production. Please contact your nearest office for more information.


Media contact: Luke Pope, 02 6452 1455