Reducing feed waste lowers production costs

RED DEER — When feed supplies are short, it is time to sharpen the pencil and do some tough calculations.

Lamb producers need to figure out what it costs to keep a ewe, said Dr. Paul Luimes of the University of Guelph in Ontario.

“This time of year, if you are short on feed, you have to be ruthless in your culling,” he said at the Alberta sheep symposium held in Red Deer Oct. 20-21.

Luimes advised using a feed calculation program like Sheep Bytes to conduct an inventory of harvested feed, stored pasture, residues and the potential of stubble fields.

He advised producers to look at feed waste.

Sheep pull hay out of a feeder and eat the parts they like and then waste the rest. If hay is chopped there is less waste.

Another way to reduce waste is to properly store hay. Storing hay outside must be considered a last resort because the outer layers can spoil or become weather damaged.

“If you lose three inches around the outside of a bale, that is 25 percent of a bale,” he said.

“You are burning every fourth bale.”

About five to seven percent is lost when wrapping bales or enclosing hay in plastic tubes.

“Anytime there is spoilage going on, the bacteria are actually removing nutrients from the hay,” he said.

Other alternatives must be considered.

To stretch the hay supply, mature animals can also do well with added straw in the ration.

Straw is a tough fibre and sheep do not need much to start rumination.

A lamb needs eight percent effective fibre to have a healthy rumen. A ewe needs 20 percent effective fibre.

Corn silage can be offered at about 25 percent of the ration, but also consider grazing standing corn.

“If you have standing corn and the yield is poor, turn the sheep into it because there is lots of grazing capacity in standing corn,” he said.

Corn needs to be strip grazed and the sheep should have enough for one day at a time.

Sheep will pull off all the cobs, followed by the leaves and then the stalks.

Stalks have the least amount of nutrition and if ewes are thin, they should be moved on more quickly so they can graze the richer parts of the plant.

However, this practice needs to be monitored because if sheep get too much energy, rumen acidosis could set in.

If sheep are in the late gestation period, they may need some added protein.

Producers can consider supplements such as distillers grains, but there is a risk of high sulfur that can cause a thiamine deficiency.

Vitamin and mineral supplements may be required as well when winter feeding.

Alternative feeds include beet pulp, canola meal, corn gluten feed, cotton seed, dried distillers grain, oat hulls, soy hulls and wheat shorts derived from the bakery sector.

Screenings from grain cleanings are an option but buyers must be wary of mycotoxins and ergot that can be found in screenings.

Most importantly, producers should have their feed analyzed.

For example, a producer may think alfalfa hay is 18 percent protein, but if it tests at 21 percent crude protein, then more is being fed than needed. If the protein levels are too low, slower growth rates or reduced milk production can result.

Body condition scores should also be watched. On a scale of one to five, 2.5 is ideal.

If sheep are in good shape they have less disease, produce enough milk and eat less.

Underweight sheep might have a high parasite load or teeth problems so they cannot eat properly.

Also, producers were told to resist shearing when it is cold and consider shearing sooner so when it gets cold they have some wool cover and stay warm.

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