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The importance of feed testing

Thursday, October 01, 2020

With hay making in full swing and harvest about to kick off it is important to start thinking about the feed value of the feed you are storing and what it is going to provide to your sheep as supplementary feed.

Each year we see huge variances in the energy, protein, digestibility and fibre of hay and grain which is stored for livestock feed. It is important to quantify the quality and nutritional value of any feed by doing a feed test on hay and grain to be used to feed livestock. This will enable you to choose the best suited ingredients for your livestock at any time.

If you are buying feed in for your livestock it is even more important to request or get a feed test done if possible. There is a huge variance in the quality of hay and straw you will be able to purchase during the season – usually at the same market value. It is important to know what quality you require for your stock and if the fodder available is going to suit your needs.

Energy and protein requirements of livestock vary considerably depending on what stage of reproduction or growth the animal is at – working on a 60kg ewe:

  • A dry animal will only require just under 10 MJ of energy a day to maintain condition.
  • A twin bearing ewe during late pregnancy will require nearly 17 MJ of energy to maintain condition and support both foetuses inside.
  • During peak lactation (20 days after lambing) a twin bearing ewe will require just over 30 MJ to maintain condition and produce enough milk for the two lambs.
  • By knowing the basic energy requirements of your animal you can do a feed budget to ensure you have enough feed to supplementary feed over the required period.

Once you have a feed test and information for each of your available ingredients you can select the most useful and ‘least cost’ ingredients to meet your flock’s energy requirements. A dry ewe and ewes through early pregnancy, can be maintained quite successfully on good quality straw and a small amount of barley – once they are in late pregnancy it becomes more crucial to utilise a fibre source which is lower NDF (neutral detergent fibre) as they often don’t have the gut space to fit in enough of a fibrous feed to meet their energy requirements. This is where your better quality hay and energy dense feeds like cereal grains will work well.

Condition scoring is a useful management tool to use especially when supplementary feeding stock. By assessing the condition score on 50 animals in a mob you can get an average condition score for the whole mob. By assessing the condition score of the mob, you can determine if the feed being provided is adequate and meeting the sheep’s needs or if it needs to be fine-tuned.

When we look at young animals which you are trying to grow out on supplementary feed or in a feedlot it is important to determine the quality of the feed ingredients to meet the energy and protein required to maximise growth rates. Over the last few harvests, the protein content of cereal grains has been quite high, so it is important to decrease the percentage of protein (such as legume grains) in the ration to ensure the correct protein energy ratio to maximise feed efficiency and growth.

The more information you have on your feed it allows you (or others) to work out the most appropriate ration mix to provide energy and protein. It also enables you to feed your animals more effectively and at least cost. Feed testing can be done by many service providers including Agrifood technology, for more information, sample kits and forms visit: https://www.feedtest.com.au/.

For further information contact your local Livestock Consultant.

Article written by Deb Scammell, Talking Livestock - Mob: 0407 790 622