Friday, 31 July 2020 09:35

Limited feed puts ewes at risk

Written by  Staff Reporters
Heavily in-lamb ewes carrying multiple lambs need to have a minimum of 1400kgDM/ha of pasture underfoot at any stage to optimise their dry matter intake. Heavily in-lamb ewes carrying multiple lambs need to have a minimum of 1400kgDM/ha of pasture underfoot at any stage to optimise their dry matter intake.

Severe feed shortages in parts of the country mean many ewes are on a nutritional knife-edge heading into lambing and could be at risk of developing metabolic disorders.

PGG Wrightson veterinarian Charlotte Westwood says going into set-stocking, some farmers will be considering transitioning stock from a high energy, starch-containing feed – such as sheep nuts or grain – onto a post-drought, lush leafy pasture-based diet.

She warns that this dietary change could put ewes, particularly multiple-bearing ewes, at risk of developing metabolic disorders such as sleepy sickness, milk fever and possibly grass tetany. Particularly if there’s not enough pasture available to ewes.

While there are mineral and vitamin deficiencies associated with these metabolic disorders, Westwood says it ultimately comes down to an absolute lack of pasture, in that ewes are simply not getting enough of all nutrients in their diet – energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.

“So it becomes a bit academic about whether it is sleepy sickness causing milk fever or the other way around.”

Heavily in-lamb ewes carrying multiple lambs need to have a minimum of 1400kgDM/ha of pasture underfoot at any stage to optimise their dry matter intake, a challenging requirement for many people this winter.

In regions such as Hawke’s Bay, these pasture covers are not possible this season. Many farmers are having to consider continuing to feed out supplements, such as sheep nuts or grain over lambing. 

“Although this is an excellent way to maintain feed intake for ewes, daily feeding out of supplements to set stocked ewes increases risk of mis-mothering between a ewe and her lambs.”

Westwood recommends farmers take an “aircraft oxygen mask” approach. First prioritise the ewe so she is better able to look after her lambs.

“If a ewe ends up with sleepy sickness and/or milk fever, her unborn lambs are at real risk,” she says. “We need to first look after the ewe then follow through with ways to protect any mis-mothered lambs.”

But feeding out supplements and keeping a close eye on wellbeing of new-born lambs could also mean more intensive shepherding over the lambing period, which in itself increases the chances of mis-mothering.

More disruption of set-stocked ewes during feed out of supplements could result in more orphan lambs this season, which adds extra cost, labour and stress after what has already been a very long year.

Farmers could consider setting up hand-rearing facilitates in preparation for mis-mothered lambs and consider asking for help from friends and family with hand rearing lambs over the lambing period.

Westwood acknowledges there is no easy answer this season. However, she strongly recommends that going into lambing farmers update their feed budget – irrespective of how little feed they have. She also suggests they work alongside their vet or consultant to make a plan on which ewes to prioritise – based on scanning results, other stock classes on the property, average pasture covers and supplementary feeds available.

“For example, it might be worthwhile feeding supplementary feeds to the single-bearing ewes to allow pasture covers to build on other parts of the farm so that twin and triplet ewes can be set stocked and left uninterrupted to lamb onto appropriate amounts of pasture. 

“Mis-mothering may be less risky for ewes with one lamb at foot than those with triplets. Alternatively, make well-conditioned single-bearing ewes a lesser priority and focus feed and resources on the multiple-lambing ewes.” 

Westwood encourages farmers to talk to their vets about what might be required.

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Lely offerings for the future

Dutch robotic specialist Lely launched a new farm management application called Horizon at its recent Future Farm Days 2020.

Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

Lely claims the Horizon application unburdens farmers from routine decision making and helps them optimise their workloads, using integrated routines based on easily scheduled cow ‘touches’, create logical and more efficient workflows. It is also possible to assign a certain task to an employee and to schedule a time slot for the cow touch, rather than analysing different reports and filtering long lists.

Horizon is also able to connect and combine data from non-Lely sources into a complete solution for the farmer removing the need to enter the same data twice, while scrutinising individual data streams in different applications will no longer be necessary. Currently, connections with farming applications such as Dairy Comp, Uniform-Agri, CRV and Herde already enable farmers to synchronise information about calving and inseminations between applications. Lely’s ambition is to connect with more partners over time, to hand the farmer more smart data.

To ensure full support in the migration to Lely Horizon, existing Lely T4C customers will be personally informed by their Lely Center before the end of 2020.

The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

Based around an all-electric vehicle that mows and feeds, Exos is light weight and uses soil friendly technology, that can be exploited throughout the growing season. Design to work 24/7 as feed requirements change, the system places no constraints on labour or time, while it is also designed to work in tandem with the Lely Vector automatic feeding systems.

In operation, Exos also collects field data as it goes about its job, giving framers live data on grass supply and lending itself to a further concept of delivering a targeted liquid fertiliser as it passes over a harvested area.

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