Sunday 8th January 2017
The 4-acre field is definitely at its soggiest so far this winter and we are mightily glad that the cows are not out on it. In an effort NOT to encourage the sheep and alpacas to keep rushing to the gate every time they see us, and so making the land muddy, we are moving the hay racks further and further away and today, we fed both the alpacas and the sheep in truggs on the ground a good half way down the field.
We do have to be careful with feeding. We want any pregnant animals to have enough nutrition to support both their own bodies and their growing foetuses , but we don’t want them to get fat. Non-pregnant animals in theory may not need any extra feed, animals carrying twins or more may need more than those carrying just singles.
Sheep flocks are often scanned and then split according to how many lambs each ewe is carrying so that each group receives appropriate feeding. A common problem with ewes carrying twins is ‘Twin lamb disease’. This strikes when the nutrient requirements of the growing lambs in the uterus exceed the nutrient intake of the ewe. It is a metabolic disease whereby the ewe’s own fat reserves are broken down in her liver into units called ketones, and these can end up poisoning her. Often the ewe and her unborn lambs die but if the situation is realised soon enough, getting glucose or similar into the ewe can save them all.
In the absence of scanning and knowing for sure whether your sheep are carrying singles, twins or more, the ideal way forward is to body condition the flock. This is done on a scale of one to five where one is seriously underweight and five seriously over. Three/ three and a half is the ideal. The body condition is determined by feeling along the spine, the short ribs towards the back of the spine (transverse process) and the tail. In a sheep with a good score of three or four you want to be able to just feel the spine and ribs, ensuring they have a reasonable covering that makes them feel rounded, not sharp. The top of the tail should feel firm but not overly fatty.
Some sheep are greedier than others and if you communally feed, as we do, it is important to keep an eye on any sheep who may be getting more or less than their fair share. If needs be, animals can be separated to exclude them or hand fed to ensure they get more. We know for example that Muckle is approaching a four on the body condition scale and that Ness is a ‘low’ three.
In the last 6 weeks of a sheep’s gestation period 70% of the foetal growth occurs and so that is when sheep carrying twins may well need more hard feed. At the moment we are feeding the sheep occasionally as it gives us a chance to check them out. As lambing dates approach, we will increase this as appropriate!! It is usual for shearlings (first time lambers) to have singles and ewes to have twins or triplets BUT this is not always the case.
Incredibly, lambing starts eight weeks tomorrow!!!