Lambs double in size in the last month in the ewe, which is a real challenge to the ewe to keep up with this as well as the additional situation of less room inside! So feeding more frequently, twice or even three times a day, will regulate intake better and make it more effective. Insufficient food can lead to dead lambs, or ewes, or twin lamb disease, poor quality colostrum and lower milk production. Too much concentrated food can reduce the pH in the rumen, so quality is as important as quantity, and forage is key, with concentrates as a supplement. Added yeast has been shown to be useful in improving colostrum quality and reduces the build-up of lactic acid in the rumen, which helps increase milk yield and quality.
This table will help decide on how much to feed and when, if you know how many lambs you are expecting:
Number of lambs expected
Weeks from lambing
If you are farming organically, remember a 70kg ewe on the lowlands, carrying twins needs around 0.5kg of feed and the maximum permissible is 0.75g. Grazing on brassicas will inhibit iodine uptake, and fodder beet and stubble turnips are up to 90% water, so the nutritional value is not high and supplements will help.
If you do not scan and run a flock of primitive sheep it is reasonably safe to assume first time mother will have one lamb and then there will be twins, and a tendency towards higher numbers with higher age. Even if you do scan, it is possible that a period of really bad weather or some other shock or challenge will change things, with reabsorption reducing twins to singles for instance.
However, lactation also takes energy, so the feeding regime should continue at similar levels after lambing, along with needing a lot of extra water to make the milk, and probably some feed buckets to support things. This is especially important in early lambing systems as the grass will not have started to grow and gain nutrients in cold and wet weather.
We produced a lambing preparations article in 2012 and a checklist last year and would also welcome comments and further suggestions. We also know that some people have enlarged to A3 and printed our Calendar for useful reminders of things needing doing!
If you are well prepared, you will have additional colostrum ready and waiting.
However, it is typical that a small flock may be doing well when suddenly a ewe dies, produces a large number of lambs or rejects one. And of course it’s the weekend, and for small flocks it’s a decision as to whether to buy a whole sack of ewe milk replacer in advance and then never use it (or use it up in baking!) or assume all will be well. And so it happens, just when the feed merchant is closed and all your nearby friends are not lambing, have done the same or are too far away. I have started like this, then bought the milk replacer powder, and then find the lambs are managing with the ewe, so then if baking does not appeal there is an option to sprinkle onto the creep feed to help the lambs as they grow.
Luckily there is an excellent option and supermarkets have longer opening hours than feed merchants! Take one egg, a small tub of double cream (around 60 ml) and 4 pints/1.9 litres of whole milk, mix together and you have a very good approximation of ewe’s milk with its higher fat content. The proportions do not have to be exact! This may work out cheaper than ewe milk replacer as well. It comes from Michelle Cranfield in the Collie Farm Blog, and I know it works because I used it successfully two years running – I did transfer (gradually so as not to upset things) to ewe milk replacer as easier to manage when I had several lambs to feed. She also has a link to variations suitable for goat kids. There is also a wealth of comment and discussion on this article, which is well worth a look – thanks very much to Michelle who saved Gatsby’s life!