How does your ewe ration measure up?
As ewes enter the final third of pregnancy, sheep farmers will start feeding concentrate feed to ensure strong lambs are born and to ensure that the ewes have sufficient milk.
Again, I find myself repeating that we are unfortunate that compounders do not supply information regarding the energy value of their rations but give a whole pile of other information which is of little value in conventional feeding systems.
Identifying the best ration to buy is a difficult and confusing job. Invariably most farmers will choose higher protein rations if they can be bought for the same price as lower protein rations -- but high levels of protein are not required until the last three weeks pre lambing. Energy is the most important ingredient in a good ration. It is energy that the ewe needs to grow the lambs and maintain body condition. Protein will of course also be required but not in huge quantities until three weeks pre lambing.
Surprisingly, despite the fact that cereals and many of the popular ingredients such as citrus, soya hulls, rapeseed etc are back a good bit in price this year, some compounders are still charging big prices -- €200+ for rations that consist largely of these types of ingredients. Simple, three-way mixes of whole and rolled cereals and pulps can be bought for a fraction of the cost and it is a small job to get a high-protein balancer nut to raise the protein levels over the critical last three weeks of pregnancy. I have come across farmers feeding ewes on whole oats costing as little as €110/t with good results.
The aim of this week's article is to provide you with information that will allow you to compare different ewe rations based on their ingredients. Every compounder should be able to give you a breakdown of what is contained in the ration. Don't fall for the trade secret story and don't buy a pig in a poke. If the information is not forthcoming, take your business to where it is.
As I have said, energy is what we are after in a ewe ration. With good grass silage a crude protein level of 16-18pc will provide adequate protein in late pregnancy. In the table (above right) I have listed some of the more commonly used feed ingredients and their energy value in UFLs. Energy can be measured in UFLs (1UFL=the energy contained in 1kg of air-dried barley), therefore everything is measured relative to the energy level in barley. When you are purchasing a ration the analysis will be carried on an as-fed basis (it will be somewhat lower than on a dry matter basis due to moisture content).
Even without getting the exact breakdown of a ration, the manufacturers will give you a list of ingredients in descending order of inclusion (usually this is listed on the bag). Have a look through this and compare the energy and protein values with the guideline figures in the table (above). Your aim should be to get a ration that consists mostly of the ingredients in the top two sections of the table. A small amount of the products listed as "other protein" sources (low energy) are acceptable also. You should try to avoid products that contain fillers as these are low in energy and drag down the feeding value of the ration.