by Cate Williams, Farming Connect Knowledge Exchange Hub, IBERS, Aberystwyth University
The time just before and after birth is an extremely demanding time for ewes in terms of energy – producing milk and colostrum as well as rapid growth of multiple foetuses. Inadequate nutrition and management during this period can cause serious and costly disorders such as pregnancy toxaemia, milk fever (hypocalcaemia) and grass staggers (hypomagnesaemia).
In addition to sorting ewes based on body condition score
(BCS) and number of lambs, metabolic profiling can be used to
gather in-depth information about the internal functions and nutritional status of the individual and/or flock. Metabolic profiling requires a simple blood sample taken by a vet, which is sent for analysis and the results returned for interpretation to the vet.
Tests include mineral and vitamin levels and an array of chemicals that can both diagnose and/or predict problems such as kidney and liver disorders, infections (e.g. mastitis) or low blood glucose. These measurements can help the
farmer tailor nutrition to groups of ewes and to catch disorders (e.g. pregnancy toxaemia) early, this helps avoid costly vet bills and loss of stock.
BCS is also strongly linked to metabolic status. Research has found that at an underweight BCS (1.25 – 2) ewes had low glucose and high ketone levels and at an overweight BCS (4+), high insulin and urea levels. A BCS of 2.5 to 3 is recommended, to increase ease of lambing and animal health. This can be achieved by frequent and accurate scoring in combination with metabolic profiling to confirm and refine BCS scores.
There are two main uses for metabolic profiling: to predict disorders and as a diagnostic tool for disease. When used in conjunction with flock and individual animal records and current daily ration, metabolic profiles are a powerful tool, which can shape flock health plans to ensure the farm
business gets the most out of its stock.
Profiles provide essential information to optimise
nutrition thereby decreasing waste, increasing productivity and avoiding vet bills or loss of stock. In turn, this can increase profitability as well as health and welfare of the flock.