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Little quad grazing
Quad lamb grazing

Spring vegetation
Spring vegetation


Fenced range
South Dakota range

Red clover
Red clover

Clover and grass

White clover

Plenty of grass
Plenty of grass to eat

Chicory
Chicory

Hay auction
Hay Auction

 Different kinds of hay
Hay

Lambs eating hay
Lambs eating hay


Ewes eating hay
Ewes eating alfalfa hay

Dinner time
Ewes eating grass hay

 First time haylage eater
Young lamb eating haylage

Two heads in the feeder
Eating creep feed

 Drinking liquid molasses
Drinking liquid molasses

Wet feed
Wet feed

Six grains
Six kinds of grain
Image by Cindy Mason

Storing feed in an old freezer
Corn and protein pellet

Whole cottonseed
Whole cottonseed

Soybean hulls
Soybean hulls

Pineapple cannery waste
Pineapple cannery waste

Range cubes
Range cubes

In the mineral feeder
Lambs eating mineral

Eating grain
Eating grain

My hoop house
Grain bin

Protein tub
Lick tub


At the mineral feeder
Mineral feeder

Salt lick
Salt lick

You expect me to eat all this?
Tropical forages  

Lambs grazing red clover
Lambs grazing red clover

 


Feedstuffs for sheep and lambs

Definition of feedstuff - any of the constituent nutrients of an animal ration.

While forages are the most "natural" diet for sheep and lambs and usually the most economical, a sheep's nutritional requirements can be met by feeding a variety of feedstuffs. The rumen is a very adaptable organ.

Feedstuffs can substitute for one another so long as the sheep's nutritional requirements are being met, dangerous nutritional imbalances are not being created, and the health of the rumen is not compromised. Feeding programs should take into account animal requirements, feedstuff availability, and costs of nutrients.


Pasture, forbs, and browse

Pasture, range, forbs, and browse are usually the primary and most economical source of nutrients for sheep and lambs, and in many cases, all that a sheep needs to meet its nutritional requirements. For example, from the time a ewe weans her lambs through her first 15 weeks of pregnancy, forage will likely meet all her nutritional needs.

Pasture is high in energy, protein, and palatability when it is in a vegetative state. However, it can have a high moisture content when it is rapidly growing, and sometimes it can be difficult for high-producing animals to eat enough grass to meet their nutrient requirements. Vegetation with high moisture content can also cause sheep and lambs to have loose bowels.

As pasture plants mature, their palatability, digestibility, and nutritive value decline, thus it is important to rotate and/or clip pastures to keep plants in a vegetative state. Forbs often have higher digestibility and crude protein levels than grasses at similar stages of maturity.

Sheep are excellent weed eaters and will often choose to eat weeds over grass. Because of their preference for weeds, sheep are often used to control invasive or noxious weeds, such as leafy spurge, knapweed, and kudzu.


Hay

Hay is forage that has been mowed (cut) and cured (dried) for use as livestock fodder. It is usually the primary source of nutrients for sheep during the winter months or dry season when most forage plants are not actively growing. Hay varies tremendously in quality, and while hay quality can be affected by plant species, quality is determined mostly by the maturity of the plants when they were harvested for hay.

Proper harvesting and storage is necessary to maintain nutritional quality of hay. Hay that is stored outside without cover deteriorates rapidly in quality. The only way to know the "true" nutritive value of hay is to have it analyzed at a forage testing laboratory. A list of certified forage testing laboratories can be found at www.foragetesting.org.

Hay is a moderate source of protein and energy for sheep and lambs. While good grass
hays usually have as much energy as legume hays, legumes have 50 to 75 percent more protein and three times as much calcium. However, a good quality grass hay will be a better source of nutrients than a low or medium-quality legume hay if it is more digestible.

The important thing about hay is to feed the right hay at the right time. The is no "best" hay. From an economical standpoint, the "best" hay is the hay that provides nutrients at the lowest cost. Palatability is important to the extent that the more hay sheep refuse the higher cost it will be.

A decent grass hay is usually more than adequate for ewes during maintenance and in early to mid-gestation. It almost always meets the needs of mature rams and wethers. A mixed grass-legume hay can be fed to ewes in late gestation to meet their requirements for calcium.

At the same time, a pure legume hay should be saved for the lactation diet due to its higher level of protein and calcium. On the other hand, if a grass hay is fed during late gestation or lactation, it may be necessary to provide an additional source of calcium to pregnant ewes and supplemental calcium and protein to lactating ewes.

Grasses
Legumes
 Bermudagrass
 Bromegrass
Kentucky bluegrass
 Native grasses
 Orchardgrass
 Reed canarygrass
Ryegrass
 Tall fescue
 Timothy

 Alfalfa
 Birdsfoot trefoil
Cow peas
 Lespedeza
 Peanut
 Red clover
 Soybean
 White clover/Ladino
Vetch

Ideally, hay should be purchased (or priced) according to weight. A sheep's nutritional requirements are based on weight not volume and you won't know what it costs to feed your sheep unless you know how many pounds your sheep are eating and what the feed cost per pound or ton is. Wastage (or refusal) also factors into the cost of hay.

The weight of hay bales (square, round, and large square) varies significantly. When hay is purchased by the bale and you don't know what the bales weigh, you could be spending a lot more for hay than you think. Most hay auctions sell hay by the ton. If you buy hay from a farm, you can ask the farmer to sell you hay by the ton and weigh the load of hay on a grain scale. Otherwise, you should weigh a few representative bales, then negotiate a per bale price.

Purchasing hay: by the bale (volume) vs. by the ton (weight)

Price per bale
Weight of bale
Price per ton
$8.00
40
$400.00
$7.00
40
$350.00
$6.00
40
$300.00
$5.50
40
$275.00
$5.00
40
$250.00
$4.50
40
$225.00
$4.00
40
$200.00
$3.50
40
$175.00
$3.00
40
$150.00
$2.75
40
$137.50
$2.50
40
$125.00
$2.25
40
$112.50
$2.00
40
$100.00
$1.75
40
$87.50
$1.50
40
$75.00
$1.25
40
$62.50
$1.00
40
$50.00

If you produce your own hay, the cost to the sheep operation is the "opportunity" cost of the hay. An opportunity cost is the value of a resource for its next-highest-value alternative. In the case of hay, this is usually the income you would receive from the hay if you sold it (less marketing costs).

Silage or Haylage (ensilage)

Silage (or ensilage) is a generic term for livestock feed that is produced by the controlled fermentation of high moisture herbage. Silage can be made from forage or grain crops. It has been successfully fed to sheep; however, special attention must be paid to quality, as moldy silage can cause listeriosis or "circling disease." Listeriosis is an occasional cause of abortion in ewes.

As with fresh forage, the a high-producing animal often cannot consume enough high moisture silage to meet its nutritional needs. Silage is typically fed on large farms, due to the need for storage and automated feeding equipment. It can be a more economical source of feed than traditional feeds. For small and medium sized flocks, silage bags make silage feeding a possibility. It is becoming more popular to feed balage to sheep.


Concentrates (grain)

It is oftentimes necessary to feed concentrates to provide the nutrients that forage alone cannot provide. This is particularly true in the case of high-producing animals. There are also times and situations where concentrates are a more economical source of nutrients than forages. Creep feeding and supplemental feeding of lambs has been shown to increase weight gains and market acceptability. The economics of supplemental feeding will vary by operation.

Energy feeds
There are two types of concentrate feeds: carbonaceous and proteinaceous. Carbonaceous concentrates or "energy" feeds are high in total digestible nutrients (TDN), but tend to be low in protein (8-11 percent protein). The most common energy feeds are cereal grains: corn, barley, wheat, oats, milo (grain sorghum), and rye.

It is not necessary to process grains (grind, crack, roll, or crimp) for sheep except for lambs that are less than six weeks of age and lack a functioning rumen. In fact, whole grain diets are healthier for the rumen because they require the animal to do its own grinding of the feed. Whole, uncooked soybeans may also be fed to sheep.

While cereal grains are the most concentrated source of energy, they are high in phosphorus and low in calcium. Feeding a diet that is high in phosphorus and low in calcium can cause urinary calculi in wethers and intact males. Inadequate calcium can lead to milk fever in pregnant or lactating ewes.

Excessive intake of grain or sudden intake of grain can cause numerous digestive and metabolic problems in sheep and lambs, including enterotoxemia (overeating disease), acidosis (grain overload), feedlot bloat, and polioencephalomalacia. The rumen always needs time to adjust to a higher concentrate diet.


Energy feeds

Feedstuff
Percent TDN
 Whole cottonseed
91
 Wheat middlings
90
 Corn grain
89
 Wheat grain
89
 Milo (grain sorghum)
89
 Barley grain
84
 Corn gluten feed
83
 Ear corn
82
 Rye grain
81
 Soybean hulls
77
 Molasses
75
 Beet pulp pellets
74
 Oat grain
74


P
rotein feeds
Proteinaceous concentrates or "protein feeds" contain high levels of protein (over 15 percent) and are usually plant-derived. Examples include soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and fish meal. Ruminant-derived meat and bone meal cannot (by law) be fed to other ruminants, including sheep.

Protein quantity is generally more important than protein quality (amino acid content) in ruminant livestock because the microorganisms in the rumen manufacture their own body protein. Livestock do not store excess protein; it is burned as energy or eliminated (as nitrogen) by the kidneys. Overfeeding protein will not usually increase productivity or carcass quality.

Since parasites often cause blood loss in sheep and lambs, higher levels of protein in the diet enable the animal to mount a greater immune response to parasites, especially the blood-sucking barber pole worm.

Urea

Urea is not a protein supplement, but is a source of nonprotein nitrogen (NPN) that rumen bacteria can use to synthesize protein. NPN should be used only in conjunction with high-energy feeds such as corn. Urea, which is 45 percent nitrogen and has a crude protein equivalent of 281 percent, should not supply over one-third of the total nitrogen in a diet.


Protein feeds

Feedstuff
Percent CP
 Urea
281*
 Fish meal
62
 Soybean meal
48
 Whole soybeans
42
 Cottonseed meal
41
 Linseed meal
34
 Commercial protein supplement
36-40
 Corn gluten feed
26
 Poultry litter
26
 Distiller's grains
25
 Brewer's grains
24
 Whole cottonseed
21
 Alfalfa pellets
17
 Lick tubs
16-24


Commercial Feeds

Many feed companies offer "complete" sheep and/or lamb feeds. These are textured (sweet) or processed (pelleted) feed products which have been balanced for the needs of livestock of a particular species, age, and production class. Complete feeds should not be mixed with other grain, because this will "unbalance" them. For example, adding corn to a complete feed will alter the Ca:P ratio and could result in urinary calculi.

Pelleted rations have an advantage in that the animals cannot sort feed ingredients. Sorting can be a problem when animals are on self-feeders and allowed to eat all they want. Pelleted diets are ideal for free choice self-feeding. Complete feeds come in 50 or 100 lb. sacks and tend to be more expensive than home-made concentrate rations. For small producers, inexperienced shepherds, and 4-H members, commercial feeds are usually recommended.

Pelleted Supplements
To help control feed costs, producers can mix their own simple rations by combining various feed ingredients, such as corn, soybean meal, and minerals. It is possible to get commercial pelleted supplements that contain vitamins and minerals, as well as high levels of protein (34-40%). These supplements can easily be combined with whole grains or by-product feeds to create a balanced concentrate ration.

For example, combining 4 lbs. of corn with 1 lb. of a 36% protein pellet would result in a 16% protein ration that includes vitamins and minerals, making it a "complete" ration. This ration would be suitable for feeding lactating ewes or finishing feeder lambs.


By-product feeds

There are numerous by-products that can be fed to sheep and lambs. Most by-products are available as a result of processing a traditional feed ingredient to generate another product. For example, corn gluten meal is a by-product of the corn milling process. Soybean hulls are a by-product of soybean processing for oil and meal.

Wheat middlings are a by-product of the flour milling industry. Beet Pulp is the vegetable matter, which remains after sugar is extracted from sliced sugar beets. Other by-product feeds are by-products of the food and beverage industries. For example, brewers grains is a by-product of the brewing industry. Citrus Pulp is the dried residue of peel, pulp and seeds of oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruit.

By-product feeds can often be economical sources of nutrients for sheep; however, they need be analyzed to determine their nutrient content. The high moisture content of some by-product feeds may limit consumption of the diet resulting in poor animal performance. High water content may also make by-product feeds difficult to transport and store. By-product feeds are often incorporated into least cost rations or TMR's (total mixed rations).


By-products

Feedstuff
Percent CP
Percent TDN
Alfalfa pellets
20
61
Beet pulp (dry)
11
75
Citrus pulp (dry)
7
79
Corn gluten feed
22
80
Corn stalks
5
59
Distiller's grains (dry)
29
90
Ear corn
9
82
Grain screenings
14
65
Kelp (dry)
7
32
Molasses (cane, dry)
9
74
Poultry litter (dry)
25
64
Soybean hulls
12
77
Wheat middlings
19
82
Whole cottonseed
23
95


Vitamins and minerals

Choosing the right mineral supplement for sheep can be very tricky. Sheep require macro and micro (trace) minerals and you need to know what minerals are deficient (or excess) in your area and in your feedstuffs. Mineral supplements range from trace mineralized salt (TMS) fortified with selenium to complete mineral mixes containing all of the macro and micro minerals required by sheep.

In general, TMS fortified with selenium is all that is needed during the spring and summer when sheep are grazing high quality pastures containing more than 20 percent clover. Complete mineral mixes are recommended when grazing low quality roughages, starting four weeks before breeding, during breeding, and during late gestation and early lactation.

Studies have clearly shown that selenium supplementation for pregnant ewes via a mineral mix is superior to selenium injections in late gestation. When high grain diets, certain alternative feeds, or silage are fed to sheep, additional calcium is required in the diet.

The most important minerals are calcium, phosphorus, salt (NaCl), and selenium.


Sources of calcium and phosphorus

Source
% Calcium
% Phosphorus
  Bonemeal
24
12
  Dicalcium Phosphate
25
18.5
  Limestone
38
0
  Sodium Phosphate
0
22
  Alfalfa leaf meal
2.88
0.34
  Dried kelp
2.72
0.31
  Trace mineral mix
14-18
8-10


It has been scientifically proven that animals are unable to determine the proper balance and amount of minerals required when fed free choice. Some animals may consume more of what they do not need, while others may not consume enough (or any), even if they are required. It is therefore recommended, that minerals be thoroughly blended with the ration wherever possible to ensure proper supplementation. However if this is not possible, minerals can be mixed with loose salt.

Granular or "loose" forms of minerals are preferred to blocks. Blocks are hard on the teeth and consumption may be less. Mineral feeders should be full of fresh mineral, placed in readily available areas and protected from the weather. Sporadic feeding of minerals may cause animals to "binge". Coccidiostats and antibiotics can be incorporated into mineral mixes.

Sheep should not be fed commercial feeds and mineral mixes that have been formulated for other animal species because these products contain copper. Sheep cannot tolerate excess copper in their diets. Excess copper is stored in the liver and can cause a toxic reaction, resulting in the death of the sheep.

Copper nutrition is complicated, involving interactions with other minerals. Producers should not provide supplemental copper to their sheep unless a deficiency has been documented via laboratory tests.


Feed Additives

A feed additive is a compound added to the ration for a purpose other than to supply nutrients. Various feed additives can be utilized to improve the health and performance of sheep and lambs.

Antibiotics
Including sub-therapeutic antibiotics (40 g/ton in feed) in lamb rations can help to prevent enterotoxemia and respiratory disease in feedlot lambs. Antibiotics can be fed to ewes during the last six weeks of gestation to help prevent infectious abortion. Antibiotics are advocated during an "abortion storm" to prevent further losses.

Ionophores
Lasalocid (Bovatec®) and Monensin (Rumensin®) are ionophores that can be added to mineral mixes or complete rations. Ionophores improve feed utilization and gain in cattle by altering rumen fermentation. They are also coccidiostats. They kill coccidia, primarily during the sporozoite stage. Lasalocid (Bovatec®) is labeled as a coccidiostat for confined sheep.

Rumensin® is approved for use in goats and cattle. Its use in sheep must be approved by a veterinarian. Decoquinate (Deccox®) is also a coccidiostat. Deccox stops coccidia from growing. In contrast with Bovatec® and Rumensin®, Deccox is a quinolone. It is safer to use than ionophores, but is more expensive. Bovatec® and Rumensin® can be toxic to equines.

Feeding Bovatec® or Deccox® to ewes prior to lambing may help to reduce the level of coccidia in the lambing environment. Rumensin® fed to ewes during late gestation may help to prevent abortions caused by toxoplasmosis. Other potential benefits to ionophores include reduced incidences of acidosis and feed lot bloat. Ionophores have also been shown to reduce livestock methane production (CH4) and nitrogen leaching.


Probiotics
Probiotics are just the opposite of antibiotics. They are living organisms of beneficial bacteria. Probiotics may improve animal performance by keeping livestock healthy and improving their digestion. Many commercial feeds contain probiotics. Milk replacers usually contain probiotics.

Yeast is a probiotic and has been incorporated into livestock rations. So far, there is little published data to support an improvement in animal performance as a result of feeding probiotics or similar additives. More research is needed before their benefits and economics can be validated.

Ammonium chloride is often added to lamb rations to prevent urinary calculi (kidney stones). Ammonium chloride will help to acidify the urine. It should be added to the ration at a rate of 0.5 to 1.5 percent. It can also be mixed as a drench and used to treat lambs with early signs of urinary calculi.

Feedstuffs for sheep and lambs



<== SHEEP 201 INDEX

Late updated 01-Jun-2012 by Susan Schoenian.
Copyright© 2011. Sheep 101 and 201.