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How to get the best return on purchased feed

A complementary approach rather than a supplementary one generally provides the best economic value when feeding sheep. Start by planning a different approach to each class (age or production group) of sheep and determining their requirements. Tables of requirements can be readily found online to provide a guide.

If reading tables of nutrient requirements and doing calculations is not your thing, then plan to feed weaners a high protein and energy supplement that is low in fibre (high protein grains; high quality silage); replacement ewe lambs a medium quality diet (cereal grains; medium quality hay) and dry ewes, wethers and rams a diet of 10% crude protein and 8ME (MJ metabolisable energy per kg dry matter).

In order to complement the paddock feed its nutritional value should first be determined; as this can vary from 1% to 10% protein in summer and autumn, it is therefore advisable to get a test. Ideally try to purchase feed on the basis of a feed analysis, however this is not always possible or practical. Send the purchased feed to an accredited feed analysis laboratory (hint: shop around; their charges can be significantly different) and then it’s not so difficult to see where the gaps in nutrition exist between what’s required and what’s available.

The next decision to make is to determine what are you trying to do – gain body condition on dry ewes pre joining; finish lambs or grow out replacement ewe lambs? A diet high in energy is required for ewes pre joining; lambs need both high protein and ME to grow, and replacement ewe lambs if joining at 18 months should be gaining slowly toward their target weight at joining which requires less protein and energy than fast growing lambs and more than dry ewes, wethers and rams. Understanding these concepts helps allocate the right feeds to the appropriate groups of sheep.

To determine the cost of feed it pays to focus on the nutrient(s) of importance; energy for condition gain, energy and protein for growth.

When ewes are grazing dry pasture at this time of year ME may be as low as 7.2 MJ. If the aim is to maintain condition on the ewes then additional 0.8MJ energy will be required per day. This can be provided in the form of grain, by-products or hay. The most economical choice of feed will depend greatly on the price of the purchased feed – it makes little difference if the value of hay is $170/t and cereal grain $260/t, however if hay has been made for the specific purpose of feeding to sheep then at $85/t hay will be the most economical choice of feed.

However as all farmers know, it’s not always that simple. There are many factors to consider when purchasing feed such as introducing weeds, freight costs, differences in feed out costs and equipment required, just to name a few.

When providing sheep with supplementary feed, set initial targets and monitor progress either in terms of condition or weight gain. There are significant differences in the genetic potential of different breeds and individuals within breeds and hence their responses to the same nutritional inputs such that regular monitoring ensures the best return on the investment in purchased feed.

If performance is below expectations then check the ration and implement change or seek advice from suitably qualified sources; don’t just increase costs by feeding more of the same as this seldom results in profitable outcomes.

DETAILS: San Jolly, Productive Nutrition P/L, 08 8842 3192

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