Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Feed meal supplements to make up for poor pastures

Michael Gottstein

As I write, the cold spell is still with us and even though the days are somewhat milder, we are still getting hard frost at night. Soil temperatures, according to Met Eireann, hovered between 1.6 and 4.7°C, depending on location, in the period from March 4-10. These figures are still below the 6°C required for growth and are back about 3°C from where they would normally be for this time of year.

Where fertiliser has not yet been applied, a chance may have to be taken that the weather will, at some stage, have to turn for the good. Certainly, having the fertiliser in the yard and the spreading equipment at the ready is important so that you can jump when the opportunity arises.

Until grass growth kicks off and ewe-suckling lambs get access to good quality grass, meals will have to be fed to make up the shortfall. I have already covered this issue in detail in my article two weeks ago, but let's recap. The levels of meal that will be required per ewe per day will depend on how much grass is available, the quality of the grass, the body condition of the ewe and how many lambs the ewe is rearing.


I suggest that the minimum supplementation rate on most lowland farms will be 1kg/hd/day until grass heights reach 4cm of good grass (as opposed to dead material that has been sitting there over the winter). In situations where there is little or no roughage available then this level may have to be increased to double that figure.

When lactating ewes are being fed at grass, aim to supplement them with fibre-based concentrates rather than starchy ones. Suitable ingredients are oats, citrus pulp, beet pulp, distillers, soyabean meal, rapeseed, gluten and soya hulls. The last three ingredients are low in energy and should therefore not be included at high rates.

If winter forage stocks are running low and there is insufficient grass available to turn out, consider feeding ad-lib meals. All categories of sheep can be fed ad-lib meal, providing that it is balanced to meet their nutritional requirements.

Dry or weaned ewes will require 0.8ufl in energy terms plus 100g of protein a day. About 0.9kg of an 11pc protein ration will achieve this and, provided that there is at least 7pc fibre in the ration, there will be no requirement for roughage. Take care when introducing the ration and gradually build the sheep up to the 0.9kg level. It should be fed in two feeds at least eight hours apart.

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Lactating ewes require 2.5ufl of energy and 400g of crude protein a day in the first six weeks of lactation. This can be achieved by feeding 2.7kg of a 15pc protein ration. Again, crude fibre levels should be kept above 7pc.


Grass tetany is one of the big killers of lactating ewes. It is essentially a lack of blood magnesium, which is exacerbated when the animal is stressed due to bad weather or lack of nutrition. Treatment of affected animals can be successful if they are detected early and treated with a solution of magnesium sulphate. The dose rate is 100cc of 25pc solution given under the skin at 5-6 different places.

However, preventing the condition in the first place is a much better option than trying to save affected animals afterwards. There are several different options available to prevent cases from happening in the first place. The following are some of the measures that may be considered:

  • Meal feeding and incorporating Cal-Mag into the meal. Aim to achieve an intake of 5g of magnesium per head per day. If using Cal-Mag, that means that 10g of Cal-Mag (50pc magnesium) needs to be fed.
  • Pasture dusting with Cal-Mag (note: if the granular form of Cal-Mag is not suitable for pasture dusting, only use the powder form) at a rate of 17kg/ha every week for paddock system and double that amount every two weeks for a set stocking system. For this to work the paddock being dusted needs to have at least 10cm (four inches) of grass for the magnesium dust to stick to, so it is unlikely to be an option on sheep farms this spring.
  • High magnesium buckets/ blocks are generally successful but some ewes will not take sufficient quantities to ensure protection. Do not use blocks designed for dairy/suckler cows as they will have copper levels that can be toxic to sheep.
  • Magnesium bullets. Buy ones that deliver 4-5g of magnesium a day. These bullets are also quite expensive and may have to be repeated every 30 days. Some sheep will regurgitate the bullets and these will not be protected.
  • Treating the drinking water with magnesium is not a reliable control method for sheep.

Irish Independent