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Make Sure You're Meeting Flock Energy Requirements

09 February 2015

US – Take note of the weather around lambing and feed accordingly, one North Dakota sheep specialist has advised.

Sheep are well equipped to deal with cold temperatures but need additional feed when the temperature drops below their “lower critical temperature”, according to nutritionist Dr Reid Redden, North Dakota State University Extension Service.

“Sheep managed below their lower critical temperature will begin to use additional feed resources or bodily tissues to maintain body heat,” said Dr Redden.

This requires greater amounts of total digestible nutrients (TDN).

He added: “A general rule of thumb is to add a quarter of a pound of TDN for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit the lower critical temperature is below zero.”

Corn (maize) is around 90 per cent TDN, hay is around 50 per cent. During extreme Dakota chills, Dr Reid prescribes an extra pound of corn per day to maintain body condition when temperatures are at minus fifteen Fahrenheit.

Two things complicate matters – moisture and wind, and Dr Redden states that, come lambing time, the amniotic fluids are potentially life threatening.

“This fluid works as a conduit to exchange heat and cools their body temperature quickly”, warned Dr Redden. 

Instinctively, ewes lick this off, he added, reducing heat loss and stimulating the behaviour to stand and nurse. But despite this, cold conditions, whether wet or not are detrimental to lamb survival.

Dr Redden said that sheep operation in the upper Midwest all revolve their production systems around winter, but can vary in ways of dealing with weather.

He explained that some lamb inside after shearing the flock. “These sheep are shorn prior to lambing so they emit more body heat to keep the barn warm and dry.”

On outside lambing flocks, he said: “Shepherds whose flocks lamb in the spring or fall typically provide open-sided structures protected from wind and moisture, plus keep a full fleece on them so they can stay warm during the bitterly cold temperatures.”

TheSheepSite News Desk

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