Nutrition of lactating ewes

30/05/2011 3:35:28 PM

Dr Colin Trengove

Attention to nutrition of pre-lambing and post-lambing ewes will have a large direct benefit to any sheep enterprise resulting in more, healthier and stronger offspring.

   Lamb survival and growth is directly related to milk quality and supply which is determined by ewe nutrition.  It is during lactation that ewes’ nutritional needs are at their peak:


  • A ewe one month before lambing requires 8MJ (MegaJoules) energy and 8% protein per day.  This is about equivalent to 750gm barley or 800gm good quality hay per day.
  • The energy requirements rise to 12MJ plus 12% protein at lambing. This equates to 1kg barley or 1.2kg good quality hay daily.
  • Energy needs in the first six weeks of lactation rise by another 50 percent for a single lamb (18 MJ), or 100 percent in the case of twins (24MJ). Protein requirement only rises to approximately 17%.
  • Green pick 4-6 weeks after the break will meet the nutritional needs of the single lamb ewe, while a ewe with twins will still lose body fat to support her energy needs.  Additional straw or pasture hay is essential to ensure they have enough fibre in their diet.  Grain alone will not provide this fibre.
  • A key point is DON’T turn late pregnant or recently lambed ewes onto short green feed (less than 2” or 5 cm average height) without hay supplements or else all the previous good work can be undone with a high death rate.
  • Other recommended husbandry measures pre-lambing include 1ml vitamin A, D & E injection; 5 in 1 vaccine; 1ml vitamin B12 injection; and possibly a worm drench – only if the ewes are thin or have a worm egg count greater than 100 eggs per gram of faeces.