Ewes now, lambs later:

lamb nutrition

Three phases of lamb nutrition

Lambs represent the future of any successful sheep farm. However, the pregnant ewe is the first step in ensuring a successful future. Looking after your investment entails looking after both your pregnant ewes and newborn lambs (lamb nutrition).

Setting up for success

There are three phases in your feeding programme that can affect future lamb performance, namely the late gestation nutrition of the ewe, the first days of the lamb’s life (it is critical to get these first days right and set the lamb up for success), and preweaning nutrition, where the focus is on high survival and growth rates.

Support during late gestation

The pregnant ewe marks the start of the lamb’s life. As a producer, you cannot afford to make mistakes during this period, as maternal nutrition has a major influence on the health, growth and reproductive performance of the offspring.

Nutrition throughout pregnancy is crucial and is easily divided into several important stages. Udder and placental development, as well as wool follicle development occur during the second and third trimesters. The majority of foetal growth occurs in the last 60 days of pregnancy. All of this results in double the energy requirements during late pregnancy, compared to the energy requirements during the initial stages.

If the ewe receives the incorrect nutrition during late pregnancy, the effects on the lamb are catastrophic. Undernutrition during this phase will result in low birthweights associated with reduced survival rate, reduced brown fat reserves, lower colostrum and milk yield (ewe) and intake (lamb). This further results in lower wool production for the growing lambs (due to fewer secondary wool follicles) and pregnancy toxaemia, which can lead to the death of both the ewe and lamb.

Meeting the ewe’s requirements in late pregnancy can be difficult due to restricted abdominal space and reduced appetite.

Nutrition during late pregnancy

Because of the space restriction due to the growing foetus, the ewe is not able to consume enough forage to meet her nutritional needs. The quality of the forage during lambing is important, which is why planning for the breeding season and the nutritional content of the veld becomes essential.

A ewe should be placed in the area where she will lamb at least 14 days prior to lambing to ensure the colostrum she produces is specific to that area.

Supplementing your ewes is also a valuable way to ensure their nutritional requirements are met at all times. Supplementation is only necessary when feeding low-quality hay, thus conserving higher quality forage for lactation. Another practice is the separation of ewes based on the anticipated birthing rate (twins or singles) and feeding them accordingly.

Taking care of your lambs

This phase involves the nutrition of the lamb shortly after birth and consists mainly of adequate colostrum intake. The ewes in the flock will each produce a different quality and quantity of colostrum, depending on various factors (colostrum can be customised by vaccinating the ewe during late gestation).

A ewe should be placed in the area where she will lamb at least 14 days before lambing to ensure the colostrum she produces is specific to that area. In cases where the ewe is unable to produce milk or has died, hand-reared lambs should still be given colostrum, followed by a species-specific milk replacer.


This phase is also known as the nursing phase during which the lambs are still receiving milk from the ewe or a highquality milk replacer. The lambs can be grown in three different ways during this phase, namely without supplementation, indirectly by supplementing the ewes, or supplementing the lambs directly. Each method has benefits and drawbacks. Whichever is used to grow the lambs, the first 42 days remain critical to your success, due to a good feed conversion ratio (FCR). After this the FCR deteriorates from 1:1 to 4.5:1 from day 80 onwards.

Feeding a high-quality creep feed during the nursing phase will improve the gain of the lambs, as well as allow for higher quality slaughter and replacement stock. Creep feeding reduces the impact of weaning stress and allows for a better developed rumen for future growth and performance.

In conclusion

Lamb nutrition involves more than the nutrients the lamb gets – it is also a factor of ewe nutrition. The nutrition the ewe receives will influence the lambs’ survivability – from birthweights to future milk production of your replacement ewes. Starting with these basics there is an opportunity to grow healthy, vital and successful lambs.

For enquiries, email Rhys Sims at rhys@4mix.co.za or visit www.4mixinternational.com.

Rhys Sims
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