Lamb survival and weight at marking may be reduced in ewes lambing on forage oats after grazing lucerne during late pregnancy

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Context: Grazing of cereal forage crops is perceived as a risk for increased perinatal lamb mortality. Aims: This study evaluated whether grazing oat forage during late pregnancy and/or the lambing period increased lamb mortality compared with grazing a legume (lucerne)-based pasture. Methods: Merino ewes (n = 636) were allocated to two replicates of two litter sizes (singles or twins), which grazed the following three forage treatments: either legume-based pasture or oat forage (Avena sativa) from 42 days before and throughout a 4-week lambing period, or a legume-based pasture until 9-12 days pre-lambing before grazing oats throughout the lambing period. All groups were offered a calcium, magnesium and sodium mineral supplement to reduce the risk of deficiency. Key results: Lamb survival to marking was similar for ewes grazing legumes (84.2 ± 1.94%) or oat forage (78.5 ± 1.94%) throughout, but was reduced (P = 0.022) for ewes that grazed oats only during the lambing period (71.0 ± 1.94%) compared with those that remained on legumes. The latter was associated with a greater (P = 0.016) loss of condition score in the ewes. The weight of lambs at marking age was 2 kg higher (P ≤ 0.05) when grazed on legume-based pasture during the 4 week lambing period rather than oats. Minimal ewe mortality (0.47%) occurred, no metabolic disease was observed and few ewes (1.3%) required assistance at parturition. None of the sampled ewes was subclinically deficient in calcium or magnesium. Conclusions: The study indicates lamb survival was not reduced by grazing oats for an extended period throughout late pregnancy and lambing. Further research is required to determine whether the recorded reduction in lamb survival from grazing oats only during lambing occurs consistently. Implications: Ewes may safely graze oat forage throughout late pregnancy and lambing when offered a calcium, magnesium and salt supplement, without this increasing perinatal lamb mortality relative to a legume-based pasture, but there may be a penalty in lamb growth rates and loss of ewe condition, and lamb survival may be reduced with an abrupt change to oats for the lambing period.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberAN23364
JournalAnimal Production Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2024


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