This fact sheet was developed by students enrolled in Purdue's ANSC 442 Sheep Management course in Spring 2007, as a semester project. These fact sheets provide useful information on various topics related to sheep. View the list of fact sheets.


Ewe Nutrition

The production phases of the ewe during gestation are divided as follows:

Flushing or the Breeding Season

The goal during this season is to increase the number born, increase the number bred, and decrease the length of the lambing season. This can be obtained by flushing. Flushing increases the energy and nutrient intake prior to and during breeding. This results in an increase rate of ovulation and an increase in lambing rate. To “flush” a ewe one can provide a ewe with fresh pasture or supplement with 0.5- 1 pound of grain per ewe daily for 2 weeks prior to breeding and continue 2-4 weeks into breeding season. Response can be affected by age of ewe, breed, body condition, and stage of breeding season.

Maintenance or early gestation phase

The maintenance period is when the ewe is not lactating and lasts up to about 30 days before breeding. Once the ewe flock has been bred, the first two-thirds of gestation is also considered a maintenance phase of nutrition. The maintenance period for ewes is the longest period in the production cycle for ewes. During this production phase sheep can be fed economically without lowering production levels. Provide the ewes with adequate amounts of moderate to low quality forage, salt and mineral, water, and treat for internal parasites.

Late gestation or the last 4 to 6 weeks before lambing

Late gestation is a very important time nutritionally for ewes. Ewes need adequate nutrition for fetal growth and mammary tissue synthesis. Inadequate nutrition leads to weak lambs, low milk, and increased death loss. Ewes need to be gaining between 0.3 to 0.5 lbs per day. This can be done by feeding higher quality forages or supplementing with a grain ration. Mineral feeding is the most critical during late gestation.   

Some reminders to keep in mind:

Lactation

Early lactation generally takes place between weeks 6 and 12. Peak milk production is around 3-4 weeks after lambing. When a ewe is nursing twin lambs she will produce 20-40% more milks then a ewe nursing a single lamb. Ewe's nutrition during this time is important not only for herself but for her offspring survival.

The growth of the lamb(s) depends highly on the quality of the milk produced by the ewe. During this time it is common to see ewes that are not fed enough feed for the number of lambs they are raising. If they are fed deficient diets the body will remove the necessary nutrients from her body reserves jeopardizing her health. A general rule of thumb is to use is good quality hay along with mixed grain.

Milk is composed of around 82% water, 25% protein, 25-30% fat, along with calcium and milk sugar (Neary). Ewes need to eat diets that are high in energy and protein. Ewes raising a single lamb need around 1.5lbs of mixed gain a day and ewes raising twins need about 2-3 lbs per day (McCutcheon). Alfalfa hay is a good quality hay to use; it is high in energy and protein. In the mixed grain portion usually people use corn-soybean meal. Overall the diet should contain 70% TDN (total digestible nutrients) and 14% protein (Greiner). Often overlooked but very important is free access to water! Since milk is 82% water the ewe will need to ingest more water, on average a lactating ewe will consume 2-3 gallons of water daily, compared to an adult ewe average of 1-2 gallons (Pocket Guide).

Lamb Nutrition

In order to help the ewe during her lactation period many times breeders will offer creep feeding for the young lambs. This is a management practice that allows the younger or smaller animals to get to a food source that the adults cannot reach.

Lambs are usually started on creep feed by ten days of age but a high amount will not be consumed till they are closer to four weeks old. This feeding method allows the lamb to develop a habit of eating dry feed which stimulates development of the rumen forming a fully functional ruminant. Lambs are born free from bacteria and microbes that are necessary for rumen digestion, the by products of dry feed and water provide an ideal environment for microbial growth.

These lambs should be consuming a half pound of feed per day from 20 days old till weaning. The younger lambs prefer finely ground feed where as by 4-6 weeks old the more coarse feeds are palatable.

Creep feeding is most beneficial to lambs that would be maintained on a dry lot as it has a higher economic value, if they were maintained on pasture it would be significantly lower. This is beneficial for flocks with a high number of multiple births.

In general highly palatable feeds are provided that contain 15-20% soybean meal, 80-85% ground corn, sweet feeds and free choice alfalfa hay.  

References:

Greiner, Scott P., and Mark Wahlberg. "Management and Nutrition of the Lactating Ewe and Young Lambs." Feb. 2003. Virginia Cooperative Extension. 6 Mar. 2007 <http://www.ext.vt.edu/news/periodicals/livestock/aps-03_02/aps-200.html>.

McCuteon, Bill. "Nutrition of the Ewe Flock." 1 Aug. 1997 . Ontario . 06 Mar. 2007 <http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/sheep/facts/eweflock.htm#Lactation>.

Neary, Mike. "Feeding the Ewe Flock." Nov. 1997. Purdue University. 6 Mar. 2007 <http://ag.ansc.purdue.edu/sheep/articles/feeding.html>.

"Nutrition." Sheep Pocket Guide. May 1996. North Dakota State University. 6 Mar. 2007 <http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/sheep/as989-2.htm#Relationship>.

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs: Nutrition of the Ewe Flock. By: Bill McCutcheon.

Management and Nutrition of the Lactating Ewe and Young Lambs. By: Scott P. Greiner and Mark Wahlberg, Extension Animal Scientists, VA Tech.

Feeding the Farm Flock for Production, Part 2: Late Gestation Feeding. By: J.S. Rook, D.V.M. and M. Kopcha, D.V.M., M.S. MSU Extension and Ag Experiment Station.

Trident Feeds: The straight way to lamb and ewe nutrition.


By Keily Clark, Charlene Pearce, and Alan Duttlin.