Sheep Feed

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Sheep Feed:

Sheep Feed can be high quality roughage stored either as hay or low moisture, grass legume silage or occasionally chopped green feed

Some facts about Sheep Feed:

  • Sheep are grazers and usually eat plant matter in the form of pasture such as grass, clover and other pasture plants.
  • Sheep should be fed a wholesome diet to satisfy their nutritional needs and maintain appropriate body condition according to their life stage.
  • Rotating pastures and ensuring there is always feed available in other pastured areas in which the sheep will be moved into later on is important for maintenance of sheep.
  • Your sheep will need more to fulfil their dietary requirements if your pasture is of low quality which might need providing supplementary feed.
  • Make sure that sheep do not have access to garden areas where garden plants, such as azaleas, chrysanthemums, buttercups, daffodils, acorns, holly and elderberry are grown as these plants are poisonous for sheep to eat

Supplementary feeding:

  • Supplementary feed should be given if quality pasture is unavailable, which should be given based on recommendations from your local veterinarian.
  • Supplementary feeding with hay, grain or silage is necessary for sheep when pastures or stubbles are deficient in energy and protein.
  • Supplementary feed can also be given to sheep that are in poor condition, or are young or old sheep, or any that require extra energy. 
  • Supplementary feed an include hay, sheep pellets, grains, silage and mineral licks.
  • It should be introduced gradually and in small amounts only, as it will take time for sheep to learn to accept novel feed.
  • It must be free of animal derived protein, with the exception of milk for lambs.
  • Supplementary feed that is contaminated with fungus or mould should not be fed to sheep.
  • Special considerations should be taken for sheep that have teeth problems or difficulty eating. Veterinary advice is recommended in such cases.
  • Sheep will be able to utilize as much dry paddock feed as possible as well as sufficient supplementary feed can be provided for maintenance or growth by a good supplementary feeding program.
  • Supplementary or confined paddock feeding is  recommended by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to maintain livestock productivity, and avoid animal welfare and soil erosion problems.
  • Supply of additional feed such as grain, hay or silage to sheep grazing a pasture or stubble that is lacking in energy or protein is known as supplementary feeding.
  • Feeding in stable confined areas or in feedlots is recommended where pasture or stubble ground cover is less than 50 percent, and where wind erosion is likely.
  • The nutritional requirements of different classes of sheep can be met with supplementary feeding.
  • Excessive liveweight loss during the dry pasture phase in weaners and pregnant ewes can be prevented by using supplementary feeding.
  • You need professional advice regarding ration quality and the energy-to-protein ratios in the supplement if you are growing sheep for meat production.

Necessity of Supplementary feeding:

  • Usually, sheep are supplementary fed during late summer, autumn and early winter to improve utilization of existing dry pasture where dry pasture is nonlimiting.
  • Grazing pressure on pastures that are near to minimum groundcover levels can be reduced for erosion control.
  • The energy and protein requirements of sheep can be met as well as production of meat or wool can be improved to achieve targets.
  • It can be ensured that pasture growth rates are optimized in winter by reducing the grazing pressure on establishing pastures.

Improving utilization of dry pasture:

  • Utilization of dry pasture or stubble which is low in protein and high in fibre can be improved by supplementary feeding with 20 to 50 grams per head per day of a supplement high in protein, such as lupins.
  • The amount of dry pasture should be nonlimiting, at least of 1500 kilograms of dry matter per hectare (kgDM/ha) of feed on offer (FOO) and the digestibility needs to be at least 50 to 55 percent to improve the utilization of dry pasture or stubble.
  • Utilization of dry pasture or stubble can not be improved if high rates of feed (more than 100 grams per head per day) is provided as it will lead to substitution, where the sheep choose the supplementary feed over pasture
  • Energy becomes limiting for maintenance for all classes of sheep, and feeding protein will not aid further utilization of dry pasture when pasture digestibility falls to less than 50 percent.
  • High-energy supplements should be used to maintain sheep once pasture digestibility and quantity have fallen below 50 percent and 1500 kgDM/ha FOO, respectively. 

Meeting sheep requirements and feed budgeting:

The projected feed requirements for a given period is calculated and the projected feed availability for that period is estimated to determine feed budgeting at any time of the year.
Determine how much supplementary feed is needed if feed availability is less than feed requirements.
The values given for feed requirements are mostly based on a medium-framed Merino of 50 kg mature weight in good condition with no fleece which is usually referred to as the standard reference weight of sheep.
Their requirements will need to be adjusted if sheep are of a different frame size or condition.
The energy requirements of sheep will also vary with the feed quality they are eating, their current status of nutrition, and the amount of walking they are doing to find the feed.
The energy requirements for ewes, depends on whether they are dry, pregnant or lactating.
Sheep that do not produce wool have a 2 to 3 percent lower requirement to maintain the same weight.

Ewe energy requirements:

The reproductive ewe of any class of sheep has the most variable feed requirements.
There can be a big  biggest impact on production in the sheep enterprise if her need is not met.
The energy requirements of ewe increase slowly over early pregnancy and rapidly in the last 50 days before lambing.
Energy requirements greatly increases during lactation, and peaks at around 25 days after lambing.
Ewes in late pregnancy should be fed a diet containing more than 15 percent crude protein as they have a higher requirement for protein.

Weaner energy requirements:

Weaners should be growing at least 50 grams per day (g/d) as they need to keep actively growing to stay healthy.
Weaners that will be turning slaughter will need to grow at rates above 150 g/d and many growers aim for more than 250 g/d to reach slaughter targets.
Ewe weaners  will need to gain as much weight as possible before conception to be mated as older lambs.
High energy and protein levels should be there in supplements for weaners to ensure growth can occur.
At least 12.5 percent protein should be present in the supplement for weaners that weigh over 20 kg and at least 15 percent protein should be there for weaners that weigh less than 20 kg to ensure that adequate levels are covered by any shortfall in the pasture.

Choosing the right supplementary feed:

Selecting the type of supplement to feed our sheep depends very much on the energy and protein requirements of the sheep, availability, cost and convenience.
Your supplements such as grain, hay or silage should be tested for quality.
The variables that are important in determining accurate rations to satisfy maintenance or growth are metabolizable energy, protein and bulk density.
Your feed can be tested for energy and protein, or a table of common feed values can be used or choosing the right supplementary feed.
The cost of the feed per energy unit in megajoules or protein can be determined by using the feed cost calculator.
You can also choose a feed mix and view the energy and protein levels, and cost of the mix with the calculator.
The protein requirements varies with the state of the sheep.
The protein requirement for weaner lambs and pregnant or lactating ewes need 15 percent, growing adult sheep need 12 percent and at least 9 percent is needed for survival.

Feeding methods:

Sheep for maintenance can be fed in the paddock as a supplement to pastures or stubbles, or as a complete ration in the paddock or in a confined area.
Usually, rations are in the form of whole grain, hay, pellets or a mix of these feeds.
The roughage portions of a ration and grain can be provided together in a trough, or the grain in troughs or on the ground and the hay can be offered either on the ground, or in a hayrack.

Feeding frequency:

You should feed every day when introducing a new feed to sheep and, the ration can gradually be fed out less frequently after this introductory period.
Each feed amount is small and dominant animals will eat more than their share at the expense of smaller, weaker animals if sheep are fed daily.
More uniform liveweight will be there across a mob and fewer losses, if sheep are fed less often.
Dry sheep should be fed twice weekly or weekly, ewes in late pregnancy or lambing should be fed every second day, lactating ewes (after lambing has finished) should be fed twice weekly, early weaned lambs and feed ad lib should be fed until they reach 20 kg liveweight. Then you need to feed every second day after the introduction program leading up to a or maintenance or survival ration.
Feed the roughage before the grain if possible so that all sheep get some roughage and the risk of hungry sheep overeating grain resulting in acidosis can be reduced. 

Types of supplementary feed:

Cereal grains:

Generally, cereal grains are the basis of a ration or supplement because they are high in energy and are usually readily available.
Most cereal grains contain an energy level of 10 to13 megajoules per kilogram of dry matter (MJ/kgDM) and contain 5 to 15 percent crude protein.
Sheep should be vaccinated before introducing high starch diets to reduce the risk of pulpy kidney disease.
There is an acidosis risk as a result of their high starch content in cereal grains.
Cereal based supplements or diets should be introduced gradually over 10 to 20 days depending on the feed and situation to allow the rumen time to adapt. 
The descending order of risk of acidosis is wheat, triticale, barley and oats, where oats are the safest grain to feed sheep.
You should allow at least 10 days for oats and low energy pellets and 14 days for wheat, barley and triticale when introducing maintenance rations.
Switching from one grain to another should be carried out slowly over 7 days.
Oats or sheep pellets can be introduced slowly to sheep depending on their cereal grain or energy content.

Seconds grain:

Adding seconds grain in mixed rations can be a useful because they are generally higher in crude protein and have less starch than fully formed grains.
So, the amount of lupins included in the diet can be reduced, particularly if you are feeding lambs.
The protein and energy level need to be tested because they are likely to have a variable nutrient content due to the degree of pinching and the presence of weed seeds. 
Seconds grain should also be introduced gradually because even they pose an acidosis risk.


Lupins pose a lower acidosis risk than cereal grains as they are a good source of protein and have a high energy content, a very low level of starch and a high level of fibre.
It is important to introduce lupins gradually to sheep because the sudden introduction of high amounts of lupins to hungry stock may result in ammonia toxicity. 
Lupins can upset the ratio of nitrogen to sulfur as they are are low in sulfur.
A  mineral supplement containing sulfate or sulfur (for example, gypsum) can be added to the diet to overcome the imbalance.
Lupins can be fed out infrequently as long as the same total quantity of feed is presented to the stock over the same time because lupins do not contain starch and therefore they do not cause digestive upsets.

Beans, peas and vetches:

Beans, peas and vetches pose an acidosis risk as they contain a high level of energy and protein as well as also have a high level of starch,
They need to be introduced slowly as sheep may take some time to adapt to these feeds if they have not been exposed to them before.
They need to be fed at least twice a week to prevent acidosis.

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