Feeding Farm Sheep

Sep 06, 2022

Sheep make excellent use of high-quality roughage stored either as hay; low-moisture, grass-legume silage; or chopped, green feed. Good-quality hay or stored forage is a highly productive feed — no matter how much is available, poor-quality forage is suitable only for maintenance.
Hay quality is determined primarily by the following:
  • Its composition — a mixture of grasses and legumes such as brome/alfalfa or bluegrass/clover.
  • The stage of maturity when cut (e.g., the grass before heading and alfalfa before one-tenth bloom).
  • The method and speed of harvesting due to loss of leaf, bleaching by the sun, and leaching by rain.
  • The spoilage and loss during storage and feeding.
In general, the same factors influence the quality of silage. Complete analysis of cut-stored forages enhances the utilization of these feedstuffs and allows for the most efficient use of supplemental grains and minerals.
Feeding Ewes
The period from weaning to the breeding of ewes is critical if a high twinning rate is desired. Ewes should not be allowed to become excessively fat but should make daily gains from weaning to breeding. The rate of gain depends on the desired weight but should be approximately 60–70% of projected mature weight at breeding and 80–90% of projected mature weight at lambing, with a body condition score of 2.5 to 3.5.
If pasture production is inadequate, ewes may be confined and fed high-quality hay and a small amount of grain if necessary. Breeding while grazing legume pastures such as sage or white clover may depress the size of the lamb crop, lowering the intake of certain feedstuffs. After mating, ewes can be maintained on pasture, thus allowing feed to be conserved for other times of the year. High-quality pasture for this period allows the ewes to enter the winter feeding period in good condition. When pasture is unavailable, an appropriate ration should be fed.
During the last six to eight weeks of pregnancy, the growth of the fetus is rapid. This is a critical period nutritionally, particularly for ewes carrying more than one fetus. Beginning six to eight weeks before lambing, the plane of nutrition should be increased gradually and continued without interruption until after lambing. The amount offered depends on the condition or fat covering of the ewes and the quality of the forage. If ewes are in fair to good condition, 0.5 to 0.75 lbs. (225–350 g) daily is usually sufficient. The roughage content of the ration should provide all the protein required for nonlactating ewes. If necessary, the ewes may be classified according to age, condition, and number of fetuses and divided into groups for different treatments.
Lactating Ewes
Succulent pasture furnishes adequate energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals for ewes and lambs; no added grain is necessary. When pasture is not being used (confinement rearing), ewes should be fed a ration for pregnant ewes. Ewes should have access to free choice mineral. Ewes with twin or triplet lambs should be separated from those with single lambs and fed more concentrates (grain) and/or better-quality forages.
Ewes nursing twin lambs produce 20–40% more milk than those with singles. Under confinement rearing or accelerated lambing, lambs may be weaned at two months of age. The ewe’s milk production declines rapidly after this period, and creep feed is more efficiently converted into weight gains when fed to lambs than to the ewe.
Your local Co-op is a great resource for all things small ruminant. Find more content like this in this month’s issue of The Cooperator.

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