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Feeding your ewes in the autumn

Well planned and managed feeding of ewes post weaning and in the period leading up to and around tupping is the first key step to successfully securing next seasons production.  

On hill country farms ewe condition should be the driver of the majority of management decisions.  Condition on ewes is like money in the bank, in tight times you can withdraw some, but ideally you should always remain above overdraft – body condition score (BCS) 3.  With mating around the corner tail end ewes should have been identified and running as a smaller mob to allow them to put condition on prior to mating.  The sale lamb policy should be constantly reassessed, based on feed availability and ewe condition, not based on the schedule price.  This can be easier said than done.  By March any decisions around mating hoggets should have been made and plans to achieve this should be well in place.

The common challenges that prevent us from having a perfect mating can include:

Not condition scoring ewes early enough

Discovering you have more light ewes than you would like three weeks before mating is too late.   70 % of what a ewe eats goes towards body maintenance and the additional towards weight gain.  The challenge is that from February onwards the feed quality drops and it becomes more challenging for ewes to gain weight.   In years of high growth like this summer it can be tempting to get ewes to go onto clean up duty and not notice a drop in condition.  Note that a ewe has to gain 7kg to gain a condition score.  BCS your ewes on a regular basis so you don’t get caught out. BCS and conception rate are strongly linked.

Facial Eczema (FE)

High challenges can cause ewes to lose weight, remember that those with clinical signs are only the tip of the iceberg.  In future years FE may become more of an issue in areas like the Tararua where the challenge is not as common.

Lamb prices

It’s easy to think I’ll just put an extra couple of kgs on those lambs, especially when the price is high (or low).  The downside of this is that it can unintentionally drop weight off ewes as lambs are held for longer and are the feed priority.

It gets dry

A lack of rain can throw all the best made plans out the window. 


So, what are your options if it goes dry?

Keep focused on the key goal – ewe condition at mating.   If things get super tight, the most important periods of feeding are the 10 days before mating and the first 10 days of mating.
Do a feed budget and forward plan for a few different scenarios.
Reassess your trade lamb policy – move lambs on earlier regardless of the price (easier said than done). Kill lambs are at lighter weights or utilise the store market earlier.
Reassess the need to mate hoggets.
Supplementary feed – barley and other concentrates can be fed, but as a general rule sheep need to be trained to eat these, therefore they are often not as successful in mixed age ewes as we would like them to be.
Make an action plan and stick to it.  E.g. if no rain by xxx or grass covers drop below xx the steps I’ll take are.  Share this with your partner and staff so that you can work together to get keep your business on track and support each other. As an example, a plan we made at home a few years ago was:
  • Step 1. No hogget mating this year
  • Step 2. Look for cow grazing – often outside the district
  • Step 3. Sell surplus trade stock
  • Step 4. Cull ewes below BCS 2.5
  • Step 5. Cull ewes below x kg