Producers can support ewe fertility this fall with four nutritional considerations
The fall season brings a lot of changes. Leaves that were once soft and green, change color and fall to the ground. The weather that was once warm becomes crisp and cold.
Among these changes, pasture transitions from green to brown, indicating forage quality is on the decline.
According to Dr. Clay Elliot, small ruminant nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition, providing the flock with supplement throughout the fall and winter ensures ewes are receiving adequate nutrition needed for breeding.
“Reliance on grass as the sole nutrition source can take a toll on everything from ewe body condition to breeding and reproduction,” says Elliot. “Adding supplement to the diet, even in the short term, can positively impact a flock’s productivity and a producer’s profitability.”
Elliot provides four nutritional considerations to maximize fall forages and support ewe fertility during this time.
A mineral program
The first consideration, according to Elliot, is that the foundation of any ewe nutrition program is a high-quality mineral program. This ensures ewes have the correct amount of nutrients they need to breed back and support a healthy pregnancy.
“Even the highest quality forages can fall short in providing ewes with necessary mineral nutrition, specifically calcium, magnesium, cobalt, vitamin A, vitamin E and selenium,” explains Elliot. “It’s important to remember pasture quality can change on a dime, and forages containing ample mineral levels last week, might not today.”
He suggests producers offer minerals to their ewes year-round. This allows for adequate mineral reserves in critical times during the ewe’s lifecycle, like after breeding, during gestation and at parturition.
Changing forage conditions
Elliot notes quality forage contains around 18 to 21 percent protein. However, when forage begins to go dormant, this percentage can drop to around five.
“This means ewes would have to consume more forage to make up for the steep drop in protein value, which isn’t feasible or cost-effective in most real-world scenarios,” he says.
“Feeding a mineral and protein supplement can help provide additional nutrients sheep need to support fertility, especially when forage quality and quantity decline,” he continues.
Elliot further notes his rule of thumb for nutrition during changing forage conditions is to start supplementing protein 30 to 45 days before grass starts to visually decline.
Utilizing available forages
According to Elliot, the third consideration for supporting ewe fertility this fall is remembering a key to profitability in most sheep operations is using forages, whether they are home-grown or purchased elsewhere, as efficiently as possible.
He notes this is especially true during drought years, like many producers in the West have seen this year.
“This is where strategic supplementation comes in,” Elliot says, while pointing out if producers select supplement with intake modifying properties, ewes can get utilize forages more efficiently.
“As forage quality declines, supplement consumption will rise,” he explains. “Conversely, if forage quality is good, ewes won’t consume as much.”
Monitoring supplement consumption
The last advice Elliot provides for producers is to continuously check on their ewes after setting out supplement to ensure they are getting an adequate amount.
“Don’t forget supplementation is an ongoing process,” he says. “It’s important to keep an eye on consumption to make sure ewes receive the full benefits of supplementation.”
There are four things Elliot suggests producers do to keep supplement consumption on track. These include setting out one supplement tub per 20-25 head of ewes and ensuring ewes consume approximately one-half pound to one full pound of supplement per day.
If consumption is lower than this target number, Elliot suggests moving tubs to areas with more frequent traffic. This might be near a water source, near shelter, under sheds or in an area where ewes like to rest.
“If consumption is too high, spread tubs out and move them further away from heavily-trafficked areas,” he says.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.