How to best care for your pregnant, ruminant stock

How to best manage feed for your pregnant, ruminating animals.

Words: Adele Tamepo, Ministry for Primary Industries

As spring approaches, so does the likelihood of seeing young lambs, kids and calves bouncing around your paddocks. To give them the best start in life, you must ensure your pregnant mums have appropriate and adequate nutrition to ensure they and their babies are healthy.

What is a ruminant?
Cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, and deer are all ruminants. Ruminants have specialised digestive systems that use fermentation to break down plant material and capture energy for growth and breeding.

Ruminant pregnancy
Gestation periods of ruminants range from 150 days in sheep and goats, 200+ days in deer, 283 days in cattle, and 320 days in buffalo. Much of the foetus’s growth occurs during the last six weeks of pregnancy. It’s important to make sure your pregnant animal is happy, healthy, and receiving the appropriate nutrition.

Ruminant digestion

Reproduced with permission | © DairyNZ and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato.


The saliva of ruminants contains a natural antacid that helps buffer the rumen to allow for easier breakdown of forage.

Pregnancy Toxaemia
Pregnancy toxaemia, or ketosis, is a metabolic disease that occurs in animals during the late stages of pregnancy. As the pregnancy comes to an end, the demand for energy increases. Ruminants, however, often have depressed appetites at this time. Pregnancy toxaemia can arise during this increased energy demand period due to the abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and fatty acids and reduced food consumption. It’s often seen in twin or triplet pregnancies, however, it can occur during any pregnancy.

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Declining or interrupted nutrition, stress, inclement weather, and transport can all increase the likelihood of pregnancy toxaemia. Therefore, it is important to keep the lives of your pregnant ruminants as stress-free as possible.

• Avoid handling heavily pregnant animals.
• Maintain optimal body condition. Fat animals are more likely to suffer from pregnancy toxaemia.
• Carefully manage your animals’ feed intake and increase it gradually.
• Feed good quality, energy-dense supplementary food.


Discuss the best way to gradually increase your pregnant ruminant’s feed intake with your local feed supplier and veterinarian.

Clinical signs
• Abrupt drop in appetite
• Lethargy
• Weakness
• Recumbency (unable to stand)

If you notice any of these signs, call your veterinarian immediately. Other health and metabolic issues can occur after a difficult or prolonged birth. Talk to your veterinarian or an experienced lifestyler before spring starts and make sure you have the necessary supplies on hand and know when to call for help.

Your legal responsibilities
Your animals are your responsibility, and you need to plan for them accordingly. Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, you must provide your animals with:
• Proper and sufficient food and water;
• Adequate shelter;
• The opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour;
• Appropriate physical handling;
• Protection from and rapid diagnosis of injury and disease.


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NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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