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Nutrition: what would Goldilocks say

 

By Eilidh Corr, Animal Health and Welfare Specialist at QMS

 

As the days get longer and lighter, thoughts turn to lambing and calving preparations.  There’s a lot to consider – we all know that it helps to have products, equipment, and handling facilities ready to avoid problems, and to make it easier to tackle any which do arise.  However, one of the biggest factors to success is something you do for your stock every day, right now: feeding.  What matters most is feeding them “just right”, in the words of that fussy fairy tale character, Goldilocks.  

Getting nutrition “just right” has many benefits, some of which you will see and some which are hidden.  At a basic level, appropriate feeding helps pregnant animals to maintain the optimal body condition, so they are fit to give birth and produce milk.  But beyond this, getting the nutritional balance right can support the production of rich, good quality colostrum, promote vigour in newborn lambs and calves, and helps to avoid disease pitfalls such as milk fever, twin lamb disease and slow-calving syndrome.  Correct nutrition will result in fewer interventions at lambing or calving, improved neonatal survival and better overall productivity, both saving and making you money.

So how do you know if you’re getting it “just right”?  You can’t tell by eye, unfortunately.  Some problems won’t become apparent until it’s too late, and even animals with correct body condition scores could be experiencing hidden deficiencies.  In the same way as you don’t know how hot your porridge is without testing it, some quick blood samples are necessary to determine whether nutrition is hitting the mark for your stock. 

Which animals should be sampled?

Choose animals in a range of body conditions to represent the group.  In sheep, blood sampling six-to-ten twin or triplet-bearing ewes per group is enough.  If they aren’t scanned, avoid sampling animals in their first pregnancy.  In cattle, sample at least six cows per group.

When should I sample?

Sample two-to-four weeks before lambing/calving.  Don’t sample immediately after feeding concentrates, or after a period of feed restriction – think about this if you need to pen animals for sampling.

What will testing tell me?

Firstly, testing will tell you if there’s enough protein and energy in the diet.  This will highlight whether the group are susceptible to related illness, such as twin-lamb disease.  Sometimes the results might hint at other problems which should be investigated further, such as Johne’s disease or liver fluke.  And finally, it will tell you if these animals are at risk of mineral deficiencies which could put them at greater likelihood of experiencing birthing difficulties, staggers, or milk fever.  Your vet might also suggest other tests, such as trace elements.

What should I do about the results?

Hopefully the testing will confirm that all is well, but if the results do highlight any problems, then by sampling at this stage you still have time to act to reduce any impact on calf or lamb health.  It’s important to discuss the findings and necessary action with your vet and/or nutritionist.  You should take account of other information such as condition scores, forage analysis, parasite status and the presence of disease.  Don’t forget to consider how feed is presented, and whether all the animals can access it, too – something as simple as insufficient space at a feeder can have a big effect on nutrition as pregnancy progresses.

With input costs on the increase, can you afford not to get nutrition “just right”?

For more information on metabolic profiling tune into this week’s episode of the QMS podcast. Available to listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify  or the QMS website.