Feeding for Optimal Rumen Development to Ensure Lifetime Performance

May 21, 2020

There is a lot going on at the moment throwing many challenges towards the industry at an already busy time of year. But, one thing is for sure, lambing marks the start of the new farming year for sheep farmers across the country with the arrival of this years produce and also of the future breeding stock to the farm. It is vital we ensure lambs get the best start possible to ensure lifetime profitability no matter where the end goal may be.

It goes without saying that giving lambs the best start should always start with the ewe, providing the ewe with optimal nutrition both pre and post lambing should ensure a top quality colostrum, promote vigour and viability of lambs as well as support the health and growth of both the ewe and her offspring. But what happens when lambs start to become less reliant of their mothers and how can we try to avoid the dreaded post weaning dip in growth?

Lambs like any ruminant are born with their oesophageal groove closed meaning for the first few weeks a lamb is essentially a monogastric not fully utilising the rumen until it is fully developed sometime between 4-6 weeks of age. It order to maximise growth and efficiency of the lamb it is vital we ensure rumen development is optimal. Alongside a good quality milk source ( either from the mother or a high quality lamb milk replacer) providing a good quality creep early on can greatly help rumen development by increasing the surface area available for nutrient absorption, thus improving lifetime efficiency of the lamb.

With lots of different concentrates available on the market it is important when choosing the best option for you’re lambs to look at the bagging label to ensure you are buying the best quality feed available. When assessing the bagging label two main factors should be considered: Raw materials and mineral profile of the feed.

Raw materials are always listed on a bagging label in descending order with the most abundant first. For best results you should always look for a concentrate using top quality raw materials such as protein from soya providing a good source of bypass protein in the diet, distillers dark grains or rapeseed meal. Maize is one of best quality starch sources breaking down slower in the rumen with some utilised further down the digestive system making better use of nutrients available. This slower breakdown also provides a better environment for rumen microbes compared to a diet higher in only barley or wheat. However a ration providing a source of all 3 main starches can be hugely beneficial for rumen health and performance. A good quality source of fibre in the diet such as beet pulp can also be beneficial in order to slow breakdown of the ration down resulting in a slower absorption of nutrients increasing diet efficiency and overall daily live weight gain.

Mineral profile of the diet is also hugely important to consider. Generally, when looking at the bagging label of a concentrate. The vitamin and mineral content of a feed is always declared below the raw materials making it important to always check the small print. Some of the main minerals to consider when looking at a concentrate for growing lambs are Vitamins A, B12 and E, Selenium, all vital for growth, health and immunity and an inclusion of ammonium chloride. Ammonium chloride is especially important if feeding to tup lambs in order to prevent urinary calculi (gravel). It is also vital that a fresh clean water source is also provided to lambs at all times.

Energy in feed is equally as important for growth of the lamb as protein therefore it is also important to check the metabolic energy (ME) that feed is providing. The ME of a feed is often not declared on the bagging label but you’re nutritionist will be able to provide you with this information so never be afraid to ask!

Davidson’s Rapid Start Pellet is a high energy 18% CP lamb concentrate based on Soya & Maize. Customer Alan Smellie from Kailzie Mains, Peebles said “Never seen lambs do so well since switching to Davidsons Rapid Start! Twin lambs born the 1st of March weighing 43kg at 12 weeks using rapid start for the first time, achieving 0.5kg live weight gain per day.” Another customer Ali Gordon, Northfield Farm, Eyemouth said “Lamb’s thriving never had as many away so soon. Majority gaining 500g per day. Last batch killed out at 21.3kg dead weight. Absolutely tremendous feed conversion rates .”

As well as having a good quality creep feed it is important to ensure lambs are introduced to concentrate properly and are eating well before weaning in order to try and minimise the post weaning dip. When introducing lambs to a creep feed it is vital to introduce the feed slowly so as not to encourage gorging also providing feed alongside milk and forage (grass during spring is always best). In order to aid palatability feed should be also kept fresh to avoid any going stale. If feeding using a hopper, only providing enough for around a day at a time and also ensuring the feed trough is around third full allows feed to stay fresh slowly promoting feed intake in young lambs. However it is important to consider that while we need to try to avoid over filling hoppers we should also ensure they are never empty as this can encourage lambs to gorge when hoppers are filled again which may lead to problems such as rumen acidosis.

In Summary, for best results:

  1. Providing concentrate alongside milk and forage helps support rumen development.

  2. Look at bagging labels to ensure you are buying a good quality of lamb starter.

  3. Pay close attention to vitamin and mineral levels in feed.

  4. Always provide a clean fresh water source.

  5. Introduce feed slowly to promote palatability and intakes.

Lorna Shaw, Sales Nutritionist

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