How to feed lambs and ewes for optimal results

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Kenneth Hamlett of Tau Mills believe that the first phases of a lamb’s life are crucial for future growth. He explains more about the correct feeding practices for lambs and in-lamb ewes.

Genetics, feeding, processing and weather plays a big role in the first phase of a lambs development, but above all, management. It is important to start before lambing, a lamb’s life actually begins four to six weeks before it is born. About 80% of foetal development occurs during this phase, so it’s crucial to pay special attention to a ewe’s feed requirements then.

As the foetus grows larger, the ewe’s rumen capacity decreases. Contrary to what many believe, smaller rumen capacity does not mean that a ewe should be fed less. In fact, the farmer has to feed a ewe more concentrated feed during the final stages of pregnancy.

As lambs are always grown out for slaughter purposes, data on how to maintain a lamb is rare. However, data on ewe maintenance rations is prolific. Although the needs of ewes and lambs differ, this data can give some insight into the feeding regime a lamb should follow to be grown out for slaughter.

A 50kg ewe needs 2% of her live weight in feed for maintenance. In a feedlot, lambs are fed 4% to 4,5% of their live weight a day to optimise growth. Such a ration should contain high levels of high-energy feed, which will lead to a higher feed conversion ratio.

It should also have a high protein content and a 10% to 15% bypass protein content. These proteins are found in fishmeal, oilcake and lamb feed, and contribute to lamb growth.

A 50kg ewe also requires 95g of crude protein a day for maintenance. Lambs need at least 181g of protein for 300g/day growth over a 60-day growth period.

Lastly, water plays a major role in sheep production. Cool, clean water should be provided ad lib. A single sheep can drink between 4ℓ and 10ℓ of water a day.

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