Small stock production: Managing ewes in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy

The last 6 weeks of a ewe’s pregnancy is the time when farmers should pay extra attention to nutrition so that they get a good crop of healthy lambs and improve their margins.

During the early part of their (5 month) pregnancy ewes eat roughage, in grass and browse material, to maintain their body condition and to feed the growing lamb.

During the first three-and-a-half months, the lamb foetus grows to about 700 g and doesn’t need much extra from its mother, says Dr. Johan van Rooyen, of the Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute in South Africa.

During the last 6 weeks, the lamb grows to more than 3 kg and the mother must provide energy, protein and minerals so that her lamb is healthy and survives after birth.

At this time, the ewe needs more nourishment than she can get from low-quality grazing, and her rumen gets smaller as the baby pushes into the abdominal space. So, your animal has a smaller rumen, just when she has the highest need for food.

Rule number one – goats should be in good condition when they fall pregnant. Pregnancy is not a stroll in the veld. The baby in utero will take what it needs, and what it can, no matter the condition of the mother.

“If a heavily pregnant ewe is left to care for herself she will start losing condition and the lamb will not grow well,” says Van Rooyen.

It’s critical that these ewes get good quality food with enough energy and protein. The food should also be more digestible and more concentrated and can be supplied in a lick, full feed, chocolate mielies and good quality hay.

A protein lick is made up of about 50% maize meal, 18% lucerne meal, 12% cotton seed oil cake meal, 19% salt and 1% feed lime.

A month before the ewes are due to lamb feed 200 g/day/ewe. Double the amount every third day until the animal is taking about 1.5 kg. Ewes carrying twins can go to 2 kg a day.

In late pregnancy ewes can eat 2.5 to 3% of their body mass a day; in early lactation this figure goes up to 3% to 4% of body mass/day.

If you are feeding the ewes in a group, offer lucerne hay as well because some of the animals will refuse the ration. Lucerne hay is a commonly included as supplement in the pregnant ewe’s diet because it has more protein than grass hay.

To make up about 90 kg of a ration, known to South African farmers as chocolate mealies, you need 70 kg of mealies, 6 litres of water, 5 kg of salt, 4 kg of sunflower oil cake, 3 kg of molasses powder, 2 kg of feed lime and 100 g of Epsom salts.

Mix the salt, oil cake, lime, Epsom salts and molasses powder in the water then add the mealies.
Start the feed at 50 g/day/animal and take it up 50 g/day every three days until you reach 350 g/day/animal. Urea causes problems in pregnant and lactating ewes – do not add urea to their feed.

Dr. Van Rooyen says that ewes carrying single lambs can get by with extra lucerne hay, but ewes with twins need more.

Next week we will deal with minerals and vaccines for the heavily pregnant ewe.

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