Better Quality Sheep Milk, Better Lamb Growth

Mar 15, 2022

Getting lambs off to a fast, healthy start begins with high-quality milk from the ewe. Increasing the milk’s overall fat content can result in improved rate of gain for lambs.

Fat has more energy than carbohydrates, and lambs can digest fat more efficiently to grow and perform better at an early age.

The quality of a ewe’s milk directly correlates to the nutrition and mineral fed before and after lambing. Grazing or feeding high-quality stored forages and supplementing the correct balance of fats and carbohydrates translates into better milk production for the ewe. 
Here are four tips to help increase milk production and improve lamb performance:

Supplement sheep for better milk production

Research has shown that supplementing fat ahead of lambing directly correlates to improved milk quality, which in turn supports lamb performance. 

Feeding ewes a supplement with 4-5% fat content, like Purina® Lamb & Ewe and Purina® Delta Lamb & Ewe Breeder, three weeks to a month before lambing helps optimize the amount of fat passed onto the lamb later.

Supplementation needs to maintain proper milk production do decrease as forage quality increases. However, most ewes are likely grazing dormant grasses or hay before lambing in the late winter or spring. If ewes graze forage low in protein and fat, supplementation is necessary to maximize milk quality. 

Factor in multiple births

Ewes carrying multiple lambs have extra nutrient requirements to support milk fat production. A pregnancy ultrasound can provide some insight into whether a ewe has higher nutrient needs. Should two or more lambs be detected, consider moving the ewe into a group of other ewes expecting multiple lambs. 

The multi-lamb flock can receive even more supplemental fat and high-quality forage, so the ewes can adequately care for their lambs post-lambing. It also benefits the ewe since she can maintain her body condition easier with additional nutrients.  

Following lambing, monitor your lambs visually to see if they have full bellies. If they look like they are hollow in the flank and not adding weight, it could be a sign of nutritional problems. One twin may need to be pulled off early or ewes could need more supplemental fat to provide the adequate milk production levels to support lamb growth.

Don’t cut corners with sheep mineral

Quality mineral is by far the most important thing to feed sheep. When sheep mineral is fed at specified rates, it keeps everything in balance for ewes and lambs. 

Sheep mineral must have a degree of bioavailability to ensure minerals are properly absorbed and used by the ewe. A higher amount of bioavailability in your mineral product allows not only for better absorption by the ewe, but also for the lamb as needed minerals and vitamins are passed though the milk to the lamb. 

Look for a mineral high in organic zinc, manganese and cobalt. These three minerals impact ewes’ metabolism, affecting the amount and quality of milk produced. They also provide higher bioavailability to support overall milk production. Purina® Wind and Rain® Sheep Mineral offers the right balance of vitamins and bioavailable minerals to keep ewes, and their lambs, performing at their optimum.

Pull back at weaning for ewes, ramp up lambs

Healthy, well-fed lambs can gain up to 1/3 or 1/2 lb. per day while on milk. As lambs reach higher weights at six weeks old, they can begin transitioning onto a creep feed and start grazing. At this point, their rumen has started to develop and can fully utilize nutrients from a forage-based diet.

Start by introducing creep feed at five weeks. It takes approximately five to seven days for lambs to start getting fully interested in creep feed following its introduction. The creep feed should be high in protein, like Purina® Lamb Starter, which contains 16% crude protein.

As lambs receive more of their nutrients from forage and mineral, ewes require less supplementation as milk production needs decrease. Supplementation for ewes can be ramped down between six and eight weeks after lambing.

When ewes are supplemented too long, it can result in issues like mastitis. Phasing out supplementation in the lead up to weaning will aid in the overall longevity of the flock. Ideally, wean lambs at eight weeks old. 

Providing a high-quality sheep nutrition program before, during and after lambing helps ensure your ewes will produce high-quality, high-fat milk to support optimal lamb growth and performance.

Does your sheep nutrition program stack up? Find out with a Proof Pays trial.

---- Clay Elliott, Ph.D.

Companion Animal Nutritionist, Technical Solutions

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