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Not exactly focused on goats but similar and food for thought -
Evaluate nutritional requirements so sheep don’t gobble profits
By Debra Fiderlein
Iowa Farmer Today
KALONA — Sheep are selective grazers, second only to goats. But give them a chance, and they could eat away profits.
‘‘I think the important thing to remember as we talk about feed and cost, is it’s something we as shepherds can do some things about,’’ Dan Morrical, Iowa State University Extension sheep specialist, said during a Nov. 27 meeting via the ICN.
Feed and pasture amounts to about 41 percent of all costs, and 63 percent of all cash costs.
‘‘It’s the biggest single cash cost in our operation.’’
He stressed producers need to evaluate how nutritional requirements can be met with the least cost. That means taking a look at water, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals — the nutrients of most concern.
‘‘The most often abused nutrient is water,’’ he said.
The goal of water is to keep it fresh and cool, especially in the summer. This is most critical for feedlot lambs. The average intake of water is three times the dry matter intake.
Energy is the most often under-fed nutrient, mostly because it’s needed in the largest amount, he says. There are many energy sources, including molasses and hay, but Morrical emphasized using the cheapest and most available source for Iowa producers: corn.
‘‘On a dry-matter basis corn is almost 89 percent total digestible nutrient (TDN). So corn is almost pure energy,’’ he said, ‘‘And that’s a good thing for us when it comes to feeding sheep.’’
While proteins can be used as an energy source, Morrical stressed producers should not over feed more protein than necessary because of cost.
Proteins, such as grass and alfalfa hay, also can be extremely variable in energy density — as high as 65 percent TDN, which is almost as high as oats or as low as 50 percent if it’s low quality.
A lamb’s protein requirement is highest in young animals. A weaned, 2-week-old lamb requires about 26 percent protein, while an almost-finished lamb needs only 11-13 percent.
‘‘So, in that short time span of that lamb going from 15 lbs. to 100 lbs., its protein requirements have dropped from 26 percent to 11 percent.
“Most of us however, feed the same level of protein to a lamb clear through. We don’t adjust it down, and that’s one way we can save a little money.’’
Ewes’ protein requirements vary from 9-16 percent. Morrical recommends taking about 10 percent off when feeding a bale of hay to ewes.
‘‘A pretty common question I get is, ‘What is the best thing to feed my sheep?”
Many producers feed high-quality alfalfa hay because it’s high in protein and it’s easiest to control waste, he says. ‘‘It’s like candy, they don’t waste it.’’
But a lot of that nitrogen and extra protein is urinated on the ground because sheep don’t need it, he says. It breaks down faster so it doesn’t require as much regurgitation and rumination. Normally, a ewe spends 10-12 hours a day grazing and seven to nine hours ruminating, but she’ll eat high-quality alfalfa in about an hour and then she’s hungry again.
“ . . . then she starts screaming at you about an hour after you feed her because we’re feeding too good-quality feed to start with.’’
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