I waffled again this year on whether or not to “flush” the ewes prior to breeding. Flushing is putting them on an increasing plane of nutrition as they come into heat, coaxing their bodies to release more eggs, to render a higher rate of twins and triplets. Last year I did it, and had a 200% lamb crop born, so I think I’m going to stick with the plan for another year or so; and then maybe experiment with dropping it and see how it compares.
I know plenty of people who don’t flush and feel their lamb crops don’t suffer. There is solid research showing the general link between flushing and increased yield. But what’s not known is whether this applies to all ewes equally, or just ewes that are a bit thin going into breeding season. I once attended a lecture by Susan Shoenian, where she said that ewes already in good condition do not benefit from flushing.
But, I figure if the flushing renders one extra lamb, it pays for itself; so it’s probably worth the investment. It has the side benefit of doing a little training of the ewes, to get them to come for a bucket of grain. I’ve been giving the rams some grain too, to prepare their bodies for having full access to it once they join the ewes. I’ll keep the ewes on a high ration through the first seventeen days of breeding, then tail them off, presuming most of them are pregnant. Then I’ll start them back up again in the last month of their pregnancies, to gear them up for lambing.
Last year and this, I’ve chosen to feed dry COB (corn, oats, barley, with no molasses) as my grain, because I’ve read that whole grains are better for sheep rumen health than refined grains. Given Woody Lane’s advice that good quality green grass competes with grains for nutrient quality (and sometimes beats them), and that my ewes are in pretty good weight right now, I’m really not sure if flushing with anything is going to be beneficial.
My local feed store carries Land O’Lakes sheep ration, which is 14% protein. The COB is only 9%. But I have reservations about mixed, refined grains. Land O’Lakes had a recall for a lethally bad mix of their sheep ration just last year. I may consider using it for late pregnancy, I don’t know.
I’m also moving the ewes into the Reed Canary Grass pasture for breeding time. This grass is pretty lush. The rams have been on it since August, and boy, they are getting fat (and they’ve been getting a little grain too, but not nearly as much as the ewes!). So, it may be the case that this grass will also serve as a flushing feed.
Last year, I only had seven sheep, so was able to feed them out of inexpensive (new) plastic paint buckets, to ensure each sheep got a measured amount of grain. This year, with sixteen ewes bellying up to the bar, I had to think of something else. I’m always constrained by the fact that whatever equipment I use for them has to be easily moveable, since I’m moving them weekly.
I wandered around Home Depot looking for an easy and cheap solution. I originally had envisioned cutting some large PVC pipe in half lengthwise, to make some long troughs. But they didn’t have pipe with a big enough diameter. What I settled on was plastic gutter sections, and they work perfectly!