Coping with high feed costs

Many factors have converged to make it more expensive to feed livestock, including small ruminants. Regardless of the purpose of the enterprise, most sheep and goat producers want to know how they can reduce their feed costs. Everything we feed to our animals is more expensive than it was a few years ago, and it is likely to stay this way for the foreseeable future.

However, there are some steps producers can take to reduce feed costs. Many of the steps are common sense and do not cost money (or much) to implement. Other strategies require a financial investment that should pay for itself in the long run. What works for one producer may not work for another. Some strategies may require some economies of scale.


Feed balanced rations

The first step towards reducing feed costs is fine-tuning your feeding program to make sure you are meeting, but not exceeding your animals' nutritional requirements. A sheep and goat's nutrition requirements are based on its size (weight), age, and stage and level of production. Environmental conditions also affect nutrient requirements. Animals that have to walk further for the feed have higher nutritional needs, as well as animals below their critical temperature.

It is difficult to know how much to feed a sheep or goat, if you don't know how much it weighs. Ideally, you should weigh your animals at least once per year. Prior to breeding is usually the best time.

If you never weigh your livestock, your feeding program will be rooted in guesswork. Very few people, if any, can accurately estimate the weight of livestock. Consider purchasing a scale or sharing a scale with other producers. Accurate weights will also aid in your animal health program. One of the quickest ways to increase anthelmintic resistance is to underdose an animal.

Divide into production groups
Sheep and goats should be divided into production groups and fed according to their nutritional requirements. If you keep pregnant and lactating females in the same feeding group, some females will be overfed or some will be underfed. If you keep females nursing triplets in the same feeding group as females nursing twins or those nursing singles, the same thing will happen. Feeding growing animals in the same group as mature animals is also problematic.

Your feeding program will be made easier if your flock is uniform in size and productivity. Mixing species and breeds that vary significantly in size and productivity makes feeding properly more challenging. You will also enhance your marketing opportunities if you are able to market lambs or kids of similar size and quality.

Dairy animals should be separated into production groups and fed according to their stage of lactation, genetic potential for milk production, and desired level of production (maximum production is not always the most profitable). It may not be necessary to physically separate dairy females if different amounts of concentrate can be fed at the time of milking. Producers with small numbers of animals may also be able individually feed animals that have higher nutritional requirements.

Over or underfeeding sheep and goats is costly, in many ways. Overfed livestock are obviously more expensive to feed. They tend to experience more reproductive problems (embryo loss, pregnancy toxemia, dystocia, prolapses). Fat rams and bucks may be too lazy to breed. Fat animals are less heat tolerant. It may cost less to underfeed an animal, but you'll probably lose more money in the long run, as a result of poorer performance and health. If your financial resources prevent you from feeding properly, you should reduce your animal numbers, not reduce how much (or what) you feed to the whole flock.


Ration balancing
You can balance rations by hand (using simple math) or using a personal computer. If you are a goat producer, you can use Langston University's Ration Balancer and Nutrient Requirements Calculator. Sheep (and meat goat) producers can use an Excel spreadsheet to evaluate rations. Both programs calculate protein, energy, calcium, and phosphorus requirements and compare them against what you are feeding to determine if your animals' requirements are being met. Commercial ration-balancing programs may also be purchased and used to formulate least-cost rations for sheep and goats.

Rams eating hay
Reaching for food

Forages are usually the most variable part of any feeding program for ruminant livstock. Forage quality varies by plant species, stage of plant maturity, and various other production factors. Because of this, forages should be tested to determine their nutritive content.

A simple hay analysis only costs about $20. If can easily pay for itself. If hay is not tested, you may be over or underfeeding certain nutrients. You may be feeding more grain than is necessary or you may not be feeding enough grain to meet the nutritional requirements of your high-producing animals.

Because forages vary in cost and nutritive value, it's important to feed the right forage at the right time to the right group of animals. Alfalfa (and other legume hays) tend to cost more than grass hays. It is a waste of money to feed alfalfa or other high quality forages to sheep and goats that do not have high nutritional requirements. Alfalfa hay should be saved for lactating females or growing animals.

Alfalfa hay tends to provide more protein and calcium than is needed by females in late gestation. It can also be problematic, as excess calcium can predispose a ewe or doe to milk fever. Alfalfa hay should not be fed to mature males for two reasons. It is more nutritious than they require and excess calcium in the diet can lead to stone formation in the urinary tract of male goats.

Mature males and dry females do not have very high nutritional requirements. Grass hay (or pasture) almost always meets their nutritional needs. A high quality hay or grain supplemenation is not usually necessary. Lambs and kids that are being fed a high quality concentrate diet will also do fine with grass hay.

It's always important to remember that sheep and goats are ruminants. Their digestive systems were designed to eat tough plant material. Therefore, forages should provide the majority of nutrients. Concentrates (or other supplements) should be fed to provide the nutrients that the forage part of the diet cannot.

For example, a female in late gestation often cannot consume enough forage (dry or fresh) to meet her nutritional requirements, especially if she is carrying multiple births. Ewes and does nursing twins and triplets can usually not eat enough forage (dry or fresh) to meet their nutritional needs to produce enough milk for their offspring. Large-framed lambs often have a difficult time finishing on pasture and may require grain supplementation.


Body condition scoring

Body condition scoring
Body condition scoring

One of the best tools for evaluating your feeding program is body condition scoring. Body condition scores can be an indication of whether you are over or underfeeding your animals. You should aim for body condition scores of 3 to 3.5/5 at the time of breeding and lambing/kidding. When a female weans her offspring, her body condition score may slip to 2 or 2.5. This is okay, so long as she is able to improve her body condition score in time for the next breeding season.

If body condition scores are still below 3 at the time of breeding, you should flush the flock. Flushing is when you increase the nutritient intake of ewes and does prior to and during the early part of the breeding season. Flushing causes the females to gain weight. It is usually achieved by feeding 1/2 to 1 lb. of corn or barley or moving the flock to a superior pasture. Flushing increases ovulation rates.

If your females' body condition scores are 3 or above, it generally does not pay to flush them (with grain), though it's always a good idea to move the flock to a better pasture for breeding. A ram's body condition score may fall below 3 during the breeding season. It may be advisable to supplement him with grain during the breeding season.


Feeding market lambs and goats
In the past, grain prices were so cheap that it was profitable to feed market livestock past their "optimal slaughter weight." This is why many of the lambs fed in the western feed lots were heavy and overfat. If fat sells for the same price as lean, who could blame lamb feeders for selling fat, so long as they could put it on inexpensively. With higher grain and transportation costs, this scenario is likely to change. Lambs will probably start to be marketed at lighter weights, before they start to put on excessive fat. Perhaps, there will be an emphasis in the industry to produce more heavily muscled lambs, as opposed to bigger lambs.

In lambs, optimal slaughter weight is determined by amount of fat covering the 12th rib of the carcass. While the optimal fat thickness varies by market segment and consumer preference, 0.15 to 0.25 inches is generally accepted as the standard for lambs in the U.S.. Lamb carcasses that are leaner than this dry out during processing and transport, while lamb carcasses that are fatter result in considerable wastage and are not what most consumers want. The weight at which a lamb "finishes" varies by breed, genetics, and management. Obviously, most Suffolk lambs are going to finish at heavier weights than most Dorset lambs, which are going to finish at heavier weights than Southdown lambs.

At the same time, there tends to be as much difference within a breed as between breeds. There will be some Suffolk lambs with conventional body types that should be slaughtered when they weigh less than 100 lbs. At the other end of the spectrum, there are "show-type" Suffolks that can probably stay lean at weights in excess of 140 lbs. The following chart shows the optimal slaughter weight for lambs, as determined by the mature size of their sire and dam breeds.

Optimal slaughter 
weight for lambs (lbs.)
Average mature weight of sire breed ewe
95 120 140 160 200
Average mature weight of dam breed 95 64 76 83 90 103
120 . 80 91 98 112
140 . . 94 105 120
160 . . . 107 127
200 . . . . 134
Source unknown

You can increase the optimal slaughter weight of a lamb or goat by growing it slower on a higher-fiber diet. Lambs that are full-fed concentrate diets will tend to finish at lighter weights than those that are allowed to put on frame before fat. Because goats and hair sheep lambs fatten differently than conventional wooled lambs (from the inside-out), they should probably not be fed for maximum gain. In addition, it may not be economical to finish goats on high-concentrate diets. Nor should goats be allowed to get as fat as lambs. The consumers who eat goat meat prefer lean meat, with a minimal amount of fat. A goat that has 0.15 to 0.25 inches of back fat will be very fat inside.


Weigh feed

All feed should be purchased and fed by weight. A sheep and goat's nutritional requirements are based on weight, not volume (bale or bucket). If you don't know what a bale of hay weighs, you don't know how much you are feeding your livestock or how much they are eating. If you don't know what the bale of hay weighs, you don't how much it is costing you. You cannot compare its cost to other feedstuffs. The same is true of grain. A scoop of corn does not weigh the same as a scoop of pellets. It's not necessary that you weigh every bale or scoop of grain, but you need to know what your bales weigh (on-average) and what your scoop or bucket of grain weighs.

Equivalent hay prices
(assume bale weighs avg. 40 lbs.)
Price per bale
Price per ton
(2000 lbs)
Cents per lb.
$0.50
$25
1.25 ¢
$1.00
$50
2.5
$1.50
$75
3.75
$2.00
$100
5.0
$2.50
$125
6.26
$3.00
$150
7.5
$3.50
$175
8.75
$4.00
$200
10.0
$4.50
$225
11.25
$5.00
$250
12.50
$5.50
$275
13.75
$6.00
$300
15.0
$6.50
$325
16.25
$7.00
$350
17.5
Weight of a bushel
of grain (lbs. )
Grain
weight of bushel
Barley
48 #
Buckwheat
50
Corn
56
Ear corn
70
Milo (sorghum), ground
50
Oats
32
Rye
56
Soybeans
60
Triticale (wheat x rye)
52**
Wheat
60
**No official weight exists

Feed whole grain

Grinding and mixing of feed is an added cost that many sheep and goat producers could avoid. Of all farm animals, sheep are best able to do their own grinding. With few exceptions they should be fed whole grain. Whole grain has a built-in roughage factor. Since cattle eat their food whole, they do not digest whole grain well.

Whole grain feeding of lambs increases feed efficiency, increases average daily gain, and lowers overall cost of gain. It is not necessary to feed roughage (hay) when a whole grain diet is fed to lambs.

Since a lamb or kid is not born with a functioning rumen, it cannot process whole grains. Therefore, creep rations need to be composed of highly digestible feeds, such as cracked or ground corn, rolled oats, and soybean meal. Some creep feeds are pelletized. Once the lamb or kid has a functioning rumen, it can be fed whole grains.

Sheep can also be fed whole (raw) soybeans. Raw soybeans can safely replace soybean meal in a diet, though slightly slower rates of gain may be expected in a corn-based diet. In a study conducted at Kansas State University, feeding raw soybeans to lactating ewes did not have any effect on lamb weaning weights or average daily gain. Due to their high oil conent, whole soybeans are lower in protein than soybean meal.



Self or limit feed?

Two does eating
Fenceline bunk feeder

In a self-feeding situation, livestock have feed in front of them at all times. With hand (or limit) feeding, a set amount of hay or grain is fed twice per day at approximately the same time each day. There are pros and cons to each feeding system. Lambs and kids that are self-fed will consume more feed and gain faster.

Those that are hand-fed tend to make more efficient gains. It is easier to monitor animal health when livestock are hand-fed. Hand feeding requires more feeder space per animal. Hand-feeding requires more labor, so it is less common with larger operations, though hand-feeding can be automated.

There are few instances in which mature sheep and goats should given all the feed they can eat. Mature sheep given access to all the hay they can eat will usually eat more hay than they need. This is particularly true of dry females or females in the early and middle part of gestation. If square bales are being fed, you can feed hay according to the animals' nutritional requirements. If round bales are fed, you may want to limit access to the feeders. Some sheep get too fat on pasture and you may want to limit grazing time.

If labor is an issue, it is possible to self-feed a total mixed ration (TMR) to mature ewes, does, or wethers. However, the ration must be composed predominantly of high-fiber feeds, such as hay or soyhulls. Less feeder space is required for self-feeding. High-producing dairy females or females nursing triplets are often given free access to feed, due to their high nutritional demands.


Compare nutrient costs and feed least-cost rations

Because sheep and goats do not require specific feedstuffs, it is possible to use many different feedstuffs to meet their nutritional requirements. To formulate a least cost ration, you need to be able to compare the cost of one feedstuff to another. The only way to compare the cost of one feedstuff to another is to compare it on the basis of how much it costs to provide a certain nutrient (energy or protein).

Consider which is a more economical source of energy (TDN): hay at $2.50/bale ($125/ton) or corn at $5 per bushel. To compare these two feed, first you have to convert their price to an equivalent basis: usually cost per lb. If we assume that the bale of hay weighs 40 lbs., then its cost per lb. would be 0.0625 ($2.50 / 40 lbs.). A bushel of corn weighs 56 lbs. Therefore, corn that is selling for $5/bushel has an equivalent price of 0.089 per lb.

At this point, it seems that the hay is cheaper. Next, the price has to be converted to a dry matter basis. Corn and hay are both about 90 percent dry matter, so their price per lb. of DM is $0.069 and $0.099, respectively. The dry matter conversions are more important when you are comparing feedstuffs that vary in dry matter (e.g. silage vs. hay).

The final calculation is to convert the price of dry matter to the price per lb. of energy. If we assume the hay is 58% TDN, then its price per lb. of TDN is $0.119 (0.069/0.58). The TDN of corn is 88%. The cost per lb. of TDN for the corn is 0.113 (0.099/0.88). In this example, corn and hay are similar in price, with respect to providing energy to the diet. If your hay prices exceed $2.50/bale or $125/ton, $5 corn is a more economical source of energy (TDN).

The following table shows the equivalent price of hay, corn, and a commercial feed (based on certain assumptions for bale weight and TDN). The table shows that hay that costs $2.50 per bale (approximately $125/ton) is equivalent to corn that costs $5.32 per bushel (or $9.50 for a 100-lb. bag) or a complete bagged feed that costs $7.78 per cwt. This comparison is based on the cost of each feed to supply energy (TDN) to the ration. Similar comparisions can be made when comparing the costs of feedstuffs to provide protein to the ration.

Equivalent (energy) prices of hay, corn, and a complete bagged feed
Price per ton
(2000 lbs)
Price per bale
(assume bale
weighs 40 lbs.)
Price per lb. TDN
assume TDN=58%
Equivalent corn price assume TDN=88%
Equivalent corn price (per cwt)
Equivalent price
complete bagged feed
assume TDN=72%
$25
$0.50
0.0239
$1.06/bu
$1.89
$1.55/cwt
$50
$1.00
0.0479
$2.12/bu
$3.79
$3.10/cwt
$75
$1.50
0.0718
$3.18/bu
$5.50
$4.65/cwt
$100
$2.00
0.0958
$4.25/bu
$7.59
$6.21/cwt
$125
$2.50
0.120
$5.32/bu
$9.50
$7.78/cwt
$150
$3.00
0.144
$6.39/bu
$11.41
$9.33/cwt
$175
$3.50
0.168
$7.45/bu
$13.30
$10.89/cwt
$200
$4.00
0.192
$8.52/bu
$15.21
$12.44/cwt
$225
$4.50
0.216
$9.58/bu
$17.11
$14.00/cwt
$250
$5.00
0.240
$10.64/bu
$19.00
$15.55/cwt
$275
$5.50
0.263
$11.66/bu
$20.82
$17.04/cwt
$300
$6.00
0.287
$12.73/bu
$22.73
$18.60/cwt
$325
$6.50
0.311
$13.79/bu
$24.63
$20.15/cwt
$350
$7.00
0.335
$14.86/bu
$26.53
$21.71/cwt

Invest in feed storage

Hay stored outside
Hay feeder for goats

Ample feed storage is beneficial in several ways. It protects your feed investment and allows you to purchase feedstuffs in bulk quantities and in advance of when you need it. It gives you flexibility in your feed purchases.

Uncovered hay deteriorates rapidly in quality. Research in the southern states showed that hay stored outside lost 20 to 50 percent in dry matter. Hay loss can be decreased if bales are elevated off the ground on pallets or tires or if they are covered with tarps. Storing hay in an open-sided building can reduce losses by 70 percent. The best way to store hay is inside a closed barn.

Storage requirements vary with the type and density of bale, but normally range from 180 to 240 cubic feet per ton of dry hay. A ruminant will consume its body weight in dry feed each month. When hay values are high, it is easier to justify investment in hay storage.

It doesn't take a very large flock to justify the purchase of a bulk feed bin. At the same time, a bulk feed bin will only save you money if you have a place to store your grain before it is delivered to your bin and if you are able to buy grain at farm gate prices. If bulk grain costs the same as bagged feed, the only thing a grain bin will achieve is convenience.


Minimize feed wastage

How not to feed hay
Wasting hay

Hay and grain should generally not be fed on the ground. There is considerably more feed wastage when feed is fed on the ground. Feeding on the ground can also spread diseases.

All feed should be fed in feeders. You should favor feeders which minimize wastage and keep the feed clean and free from fecal or other foreign matter. Feeders can be built on the farm or purchased from commercial vendors. There are many different designs for feeders. Not all feeder designs will work equally well for all classes of sheep and goats. Goats are particularly adept at getting into feeders and on top of feed. For fiber-producing sheep and goats, feeders which minimize fleece contamination should be used.

If feed is limit-fed, there needs to be enough feeder space for all animals in the feeding group to eat at one time. It is generally recommended that each female have 16 to 20 inches of feeder space. Lambs and kids should have 9 to 12 inches of feeder space. These space measurements may need to be adjusted up on down, depending upon the species, size of the animals, fleece length, and presence of horns or dominant behavior. Animals that do not get their fair share of feed because of lack of feeder space will end up costing you money, because their nutritional needs will probably not be met. It may be wise to cull animals that are too aggressive at the feeders or who won't stay out of the feeders.

In larger operations where stock is wintered on pasture, it's okay to feed supplements on frozen ground.


Consider alternative feedstuffs

Though it varies by geographic region, the standard concentrate diet for livestock in the U.S. is corn and soybean meal. Corn (maize) is the energy source, while soybean meal is the primary protein source. However, there are other cereal grains that can substitute for corn when price relationships are favorable: barley, wheat, oats, rye, triticale (wheat x rye), buckwheat, and milo (sorghum). Most cereal grains can substitute for corn pound for pound. The only exception is wheat which should not compose more than 50 percent of the ration. In some regions and years, barley is commonly fed instead of corn. It has 90 percent of the feeding value of corn, but is several percentage points higher in protein.

Cottonseed meal or whole cottonseed can replace soybean meal in the diet. Sheep and goats can also utilize whole full-fat soybeans as a protein source. If priced competitively, alfalfa and other legume hays are an excellent source of protein for sheep and goats. Alfalfa pellets are another potential protein source, depending upon their price relative to other protein sources. The following tables compare the nutrient composition of common cereal grains and protein feeds.

Nutrient content of cereal grains (energy feeds)
Grain
% DM
% TDN
% CP
% Ca
% P
Barley
89
84
12
0.06
0.38
Buckwheat
88
77
12
0.11
0.36
Corn
88
88
9
0.02
0.30
Milo (sorghum), ground
89
82
11
0.04
0.32
Oats
89
76
13
0.05
0.41
Rye
89
82
12
0.07
0.39
Triticale
89
85
14
0.07
0.39
Wheat
89
88
14
0.05
0.43
Source of data:  Sheep Production Handbook (2002), Nutrition chapter
Nutrient content of common protein sources for sheep and goats
Grain
% DM
% TDN
% CP
% Ca
% P
Alfalfa hay, mid-bloom
89
58
17
1.4
0.23
Alfalfa pellets, dehydrated
92
61
19
1.42
0.25
Canola meal
90
71
40
0.75
1.16
Cottonseed meal
92
80
46
0.21
1.19
Fish meal
90
74
66
5.5
3.15
Soybean meal
89
84
50
0.30
0.75
Urea (46% N)
99
0
288
0
0
Whole cottonseed
91
95
23
0.14
0.64
Whole soybeans
88
93
40
0.27
0.64
Source of data:  Sheep Production Handbook (2002), Nutrition chapter

Sheep and goats do not require specific feedstuffs. They require specific nutrients: energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals. While most sheep and goat producers are accustomed to feeding traditional hay and grain diets, there are many alternative feedstuffs that can provide the nutrients that small ruminants require, sometimes at more economical prices.

Substitute grain for hay
Though it varies by geographic region, year, and farm, grain is often a more economical source of nutrients than hay. Depending upon the quality of hay, on the basis of energy (TDN), corn grain is worth 1.4 to 1.9 times the value of hay. In other words, 1 lb. of corn is equivalent to 1.4 to 1.9 lbs. of hay.

At the same time, it's important to remember that sheep and goats are ruminant livestock that require a certain amount of roughage in their diet to maintain a healthy ruminant digestive system. Though recommendations vary, it is suggested that sheep and goats be fed a minimum of one-half pound of roughage per 100 pounds of body weight.

Grains with built-in roughage, such as barley, oats, and ear corn are less likely to cause digestive problems.

Urea
Urea is not a protein supplement, but is a source of non-protein nitrogen (NPN) from which rumen bacteria can synthesize protein. Urea is 45 percent nitrogen (N) and has an equivalent crude protein of 281 percent. Urea should not provide more than one-third of the total N in the diet. It is usually fed as part of a high energy ration. Urea should not be used in rations for young lambs or kids or creep rations. Sudden high intakes of urea can cause toxicity and death.

Soyhulls
Soyhulls are a by-product of soybean processing. They are the seed coat (not the pod) of the bean. Soyhulls can replace a portion of either the forage or grain in the diet.
Because of their unique physical characteristics, soyhulls can replace up to 50 percent of the forage in a diet. One pound of soyhulls is equivalent to approximately 1.4 lbs. of forage. Soyhulls can substitute pound for pound with corn or barley.

Though their nutrient composition may vary, soyhulls have almost the "perfect" nutrient composition for sheep and goat diets: 77% TDN and 12% CP. They are a good source of calcium and a moderate source of phosphorus. Their only downside is that they contain more copper than conventional feed sources. This would not be an issue with goats, but needs to be considered when feeding sheep.

Distiller's grains
Producers who live near an ethanol plant may be able to feed dried distiller's grains (DDG) to their sheep and/or goats. DDG are what's left of the corn (or other grain) after the starch has been fermented into ethanol for fuel. DDG are an excellent source of energy and protein, including rumen by-pass protein (up to 50%). But, they are also high in potassium, phosphorus, and sulfur, which can be problematic.

Research conducted at North Dakota State University showed that up to 30 percent of the corn in lamb finishing rations could be replaced with DDG. In ewe diets, DDG has been used to replace soybean meal as a protein supplement or up to two-thirds of the grain (corn), equating to 25% of the diet, without any ill effects. In fact, the performance of triplet-reared lambs was improved by 12 percent with inclusion of DDG in the lactation diet of the ewe.

Ewes eating haylage
First time haylage eater

Silage
Silage can be an economical source of nutrients for sheep and goats, especially on large farms where feeding can be mechanized. Corn silage is composed of the entire corn plant. Silage can also be made from forage and small grain crops.

The biggest risk factor associated with feeding silage to sheep and goats is the risk of listeriosis. Listeriosis or “circling disease” is caused by the bacterium Listeriosis monocytogenes. Listeria are naturally present in the soil and also thrive in cool, moist conditions. The bacteria grow in spoiled fermented feeds and wet hays.

To grow in silage, the bacteria require oxygen and a pH above 5.5. Listeria grows in silages where there is an infiltration of oxygen, such as the end of the bunker or near a hole in the silage bag. Spoilage also occurs at the edges of the silage pit, on the top layer of silage in an upright silo, on the exposed or open “face” of haylage bales and in left over feed in the bunk. The major source of listeria in sheep and goats is from eating poorly fermented or moldy silage.

In sheep and goats, listeria can cause late-term abortions, generalized infection, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), and death in newborns. Clinical symptoms can occur approximately 3 weeks after ingestion of the feed containing the bacteria. There is no known cure for listeriosis. Aggressive antibiotic treatment is usually employed.

Due to differences in moisture content, 3 pounds of silage is typically equal to 1.5 lbs. of dry hay. Because of its high moisture content, it is usually necessasry to feed a grain mix to pregnant (late) and lactating females and growing lambs and kids. Corn silage is low in protein and calcium, so in addition to energy, protein and calcium must be supplemented.

Balage
Baylage is another option. Balage is silage made in large round bales and stored in airtight, plastic bags. Baled haylage requires less drying time than conventional hay, so that during poor drying conditions, quality feed can still be made. Because of the higher moisture in balage, there is less leaf loss as compared to dry hay. Less feed wastage occurs with balage since the coarse, stemmy material is softer and more palatable to the livestock.

Balage can be fed in the same manner as round bales. It can be fed in most round bale feeders. Some producers surround the bale with panels or unroll the bale for feeding. A fork-lift is usually required to move a bale. Shelf-life of balage is about 1 week. As compared to hay, balage can be stored outside.

The following table shows the nutritive value of some common alternative feedstuffs. Feeds that are by-products of processing industries vary in nutritive content and should be analysed to get a more accurate nutrient profile.

Nutrient composition of some alternative feeds for sheep and goats
Feedstuff
% DM
% TDN
% CP
% Ca
% P
Alfalfa pellets (dehydrated)
90
61
20
1.43
0.26
Beet pulp (dry)
91
75
11
0.65
0.08
Bread by-product
68
91
14
0.09
0.18
Citrus pulp (dry)
90
79
7
1.81
0.12
Corn gluten feed
90
80
22
0.12
0.85
Corn silage
34
72
8
0.28
0.23
Corn stalks
80
59
5
0.35
0.19
Distillers grains, dry, corn
91
90
29
0.15
0.78
Ear corn
87
82
9
0.06
0.28
Grain screenings
90
65
14
0.25
0.34
Grass silage
30
61
11
0.70
0.24
Kelp (dry)
91
32
7
2.72
0.31
Molasses (cane, dry)
94
74
9
1.10
0.15
Poultry litter (dry)
87
64
25
3.0
2.5
Potatoes, cull
21
80
10
0.03
.24
Pumpkins, cull
10
85
16
0.24
0.43
Soybean hulls
90
77
12
0.55
0.17
Wheat middlings
89
82
19
.15
1.02
Whole cottonseed
91
95
23
0.14
0.64
Whole soybeans
88
93
40
0.27
0.64
Source of data:  Sheep Production Handbook (2002), Nutrition chapter

Maximize your pasture resource

Goats grazing pearl millet

While purchasing more land for grazing may be cost-prohibitive, especially in areas where land values are high, the pasture that you already own or lease is usually the most economical source of nutrients for sheep and goats. To get the most out of your pasture resource, you should lime and fertilize according to soil test results and recommendations. Nitrogen should be applied to grass pasture at the time(s) that are optimal for growth. Adding legumes to the pasture mix will reduce the need for nitrogen application.

Pastures should be subdivided into smaller areas for grazing. Smaller paddocks and shorter rotation periods result in less feed wastage and give the plants more time to recover. You can usually achieve higher stocking rates with intensive, rotational grazing systems. Rotational grazing may or may not aid in internal parasite (worm) control. The length of pasture rest is more important than the frequency of rotation.

There are several ways to extend the grazing season and reduce the amount of purchased feed inputs. Tall fescue is the most desirable grass to stockpile for late-fall and winter grazing. To stockpile fescue, don't graze it from mid-August through mid-October. Fescue responds well to nitrogen application.

Planting annual crops is another way to extend the grazing season. Brassicas (rape, turnips, kale) are annual crops that continue to grow in the fall and winter. They are usually planted in early to mid-August to provide late-fall, early winter grazing.

Brassicas are high in digestible nutrients and protein.Winter cereal crops (wheat, rye, spring oats, and triticale) can provide fall and winter grazing. Warm season annuals (pearl millet, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, and crabgrass) and perennials (native grasses) can be planted to improve summer grazing.


Cull unproductive animals

Doe nursing single kid
We're family

When feed costs are high, culling standards should be equally high. You can't afford to take a chance on marginally productive animals when feed costs are high. Why feed a ewe or doe that raises only one offspring when there are plenty of other females that will raise twins or triplets. Don't make excuses for a ewe or doe that fails to raise any offspring. Get rid of her. On-average, a female's most productive years are from 3 to 6.

The most efficient females in the flock are the ones that wean a greater proportion of their body weight. It's a good idea to weigh and condition score your females at the start of breeding season and to weigh their offspring at the time of weaning. This will enable you to determine which females in your flock are the most efficient and which one's offspring you should retain for breeding.

Replacements should be selected from the most productive females in the flock. These won't necessarily be the "prettiest" ones. They'll be the ones that utilize expensive feed resources to produce babies that grow well.

You can increase productivity by breeding ewe lambs and doelings. Well-grown ewe lambs and doelings can be bred to produce offspring by the time they are one year old. Size is more important than age when decided if/when to breed lambs and kids. The recommendation is that females achieve approximately two-thirds of their mature weight before being bred. Ewe lambs and doelings should be managed and fed separately from mature females, (ideally) up until the time they wean their first set of offspring. If ewe lambs and doelings aren't big enough and you can't manage them separately, you should not breed them until the second year of life.

Every extra lamb or kid that you produce will reduce your feed costs, because it will spread out your fixed costs (overhead). Feed costs tend to comprise 50 to 75 percent of the production costs on a sheep and/or goat farm.

Males
A ram or buck is only productive for a short time during the year. In small enterprises, the cost of maintaining a ram or buck can be costly. A strategy to reduce this feeding cost is to sell the male after breeding and get a new male at the start of next year's breeding season. If you use a ram lamb or buckling for breeding, his purchase and selling price may not be much different.

Although it is always best to breed unrelated animals, you can also use a ram or buck that you raised and breed him to his mother, sister, or half-sib. Close-breeding will not cause strange birth defects, though it's advisable to sell all the offspring from these matings for meat. Inbreeding becomes a problem when it is repeated in multiple generations. Over time, inbreeding depresses fitness (health) and performance traits.

Another alternative is to share a ram or buck with another breeder or borrow a male from another breeder. This should only be done if the health status of both flocks is similar. Diseases are most commonly introduced to a farm from another farm or livestock sale. Artificial insemination (AI) can be a viable option, especially for goats, but it is still useful to maintain a male for heat detection. Otherwise, it will be necessary to manipulate the female's reproductive cycle using hormones, which are not FDA-approved for sheep and goats.


Copyright © 2008.


References and addtional reading
General guidelines for feeding sheep and goats - by Susan Schoenian
[PPT] Feeding the pregnant and lactating female - by Susan Schoenian
Dealing with high hay prices - Sheep @ Purdue
Stretching hay supplies - Sheep @ Purdue
Coping with high-price corn - South Dakota State University
Feeding soyhulls and dried distillers grain to sheep - South Dakota State University
Using co-products from the corn milling industry in sheep rations - Iowa State University
Utilizing soyhulls in livestock and dairy rations - South Dakota State University
Reduced hay rations - Michigan State University
Extending livestock feed supplies - Alberta, Canada
Feeding sheep corn silage - Ontario, Canada
Baled haylage for sheep - Ontario, Canada
Baled silage for livestock - University of Arkansas

Created or last updated by Susan Schoenian on 21-Dec-2009 .