MATURE EWES that weaned last year’s lambs in good time will have taken little harm from the dry summer and autumn. They can survive on dry feed as long as they have good water and shade.
But if mature ewes are still skinny going into winter, you probably have too many sheep and they’ll need good quality supplementary feed to build up their body condition before lambing, otherwise expect lambing problems and ewe deaths from metabolic diseases like milk fever and sleepy sickness.
Hoggets and late-born lambs suffer most, as they need to keep growing or they end up being permanently stunted adults. If they are small, the best policy could be to get rid of the lot as they’ll never make decent sheep and will cost you money all through their lives.
If any hoggets were big enough to take the ram (at a minimum weight of 45kg), they’ll need extra care over winter if feed is short. They will certainly need concentrate feed to keep them growing as they are priority stock for the next two seasons.
If you have to feed concentrates (which are expensive) to sheep, make sure they are fed in troughs with plenty of space for all to get a fair share and there is no waste. Whole barley and oats are best crushed before feeding. Never feed wheat to sheep.
Today’s high-fertility ewes are bred to carry multiple lambs so must never be allowed to lose body condition. You need to keep checking regularly using the condition scoring guide and get hands-on with your checks as wool hides a lot.
Some ewes are winter shorn and your shearer will let you know if they are right to shear - wool must be a minimum of 100mm to sell. It’s often easier to let the shearer take the wool to build into a decent lot, and he/she can prepare it properly for sale. Despite the low price, it still pays to prepare wool properly, and all shorn ewes need good feed and shelter for a couple of days after shearing.
Ewes should not need drenching, despite all the advertising hype to do so. Their natural immunity should be able to handle any internal parasites. The ads never tell you to base drenching on a Faecal Egg Count (FEC) and vet advice about the best drench for your farm, where the worms may have developed resistance to certain chemical families. Even if they have a FEC over 500eggs/g of faeces if they are thriving, it can be best to avoid drenching them. Drench resistance is now more widespread than is realised and a farm with total drench resistance can’t run sheep or goats.
If any ewes are not thriving, check their teeth as grass length will be short this winter and they’ll be struggling to get enough feed. A mature ewe
needs 1kg Dm/day, and they’ll be grazing low and eating a lot of soil, causing teeth wear.
If your rams were harnessed, you‘ll have a good idea of which ewes will lamb first, so they can get some priority concentrate feed for the four weeks before lambing. Late lambing ewes need lower priority and any ewes that didn’t cycle could be cashed in and not wintered.