Proper winter feed planning has taken on additional urgency this year

Clifford Richardson closed his first fields in mid-September. These fields will be available for grazing after lambing in mid-February
Clifford Richardson closed his first fields in mid-September. These fields will be available for grazing after lambing in mid-February

Tom Coll

Completing a winter feed plan immediately should be a priority for every farmer in the northwest given the heavy rainfall we have had since August.

When a plan is ready, im­portant decisions can be made to ensure that the nutritional needs of pregnant ewes are met as economically as possible.

Where farmers have insuffi­cient or poor quality silage min­imum roughage supplemented with good quality concentrate rations is often the preferred option.

This autumn, Clifford Rich­ardson made a few decisions some of which I agree with and others on which we agree to differ.

The 130 pedigree Lleyn ewes were sponged and AI’d to lamb in mid-February. Some 77pc appear to have held to AI which is good. The remainder repeated and have been served by the two stock rams.

Clifford is confident that the majority of the ewes will lamb in 17 days. “Lambing in 2018 will be very busy but will be compact,”he says.

130 ewe lambs retained for breeding will not be bred as ewe lambs but will go to the ram in 2018 as hoggets.

Clifford plans to operate a closed flock on the female side with only rams purchased and introduced to the main flock after a strict quarantine period.

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He also plans to house the ewes and ewe lambs from mid-December in the new slatted house which we will feature in the next article.

The first fields were closed in mid-September and received a bag of 18-6-12 after last grazing.

These fields will be available for grazing after lambing in mid-February. The temptation will be there for Clifford to extend out the winter grazing period to mid-January by graz­ing these fields which at present have nice covers of grass.

This, however, would be a huge mistake.

The grass available in Febru­ary for grazing ewes is generally grown in October or early No­vember and carried through the winter for grazing in the spring.

If this is eaten prior to hous­ing, it will result in a grass shortage in the spring and ewes will require supplementation with concentrates to meet their nutritional requirements post lambing.

The feed demands of the ewes in the spring rearing lambs are almost double that of the pregnant ewe grazing in November and December.

No amount of early fertil­iser application will make up the deficit in grass caused by grazing too late into the winter period.

This week, Clifford and I completed a winter fodder budget for the farm. The winter feed budget requires a few pre­dictions at this stage of the year.

The planned date of housing and the potential litter size can be assumed based on previous years records.

Forage availability can be assessed by counting the num­ber of bales or measuring the silage pit.

Sampling is the best means of accurately assessing forage quality and it’s a service that many of the feed mills currently provide free of charge.

It will allow you to make the correct decisions on when to commence concentrate supple­mentation and to decide on how much to feed.

The silage analysis results taken from four bales from silages made during the year on the Richardson farm are outlined in Table 1.

Clifford plans to feed silage bales from sample No 3 to the ewe lambs from housing to turnout and to ewes prior to the commencement of concentrate supplementation.

The remainder of the silage will be fed to the ewes prior to lambing with concentrates which contain 20pc soya bean meal to ensure ewes have an adequate supply of quality co­lostrum at lambing.

Concentrate feeding plan for ewes in good body condition score based on scanning and silage as detailed in Table 1.

This is to ensure that ewes lamb down in adequate body condition score to cope with the challenges that may accompany the earlier than usual lambing date in mid-February.

Assuming that Clifford’s ewes will scan as well as previous years, a litter size in the order of 1.9-plus is expected which will equate to about 55pc of the ewes carrying twins, 25pc singles and the remainder multiples with a few barren.

Silage intakes will reduce from 1.5kg dry matter per ewe/ day after housing to 0.3kg/day for ewes carrying multiples in the last week prior to lambing. It will require 7,500-8,000kg of silage dry matter to meet the winter housing period require­ments of the ewes.

This equates to 23 bales of si­lage No 1 at 57.5pc DM, 48 bales of silage No 3 at 28.1pc DM or 35 bales of silage No 4 assuming a bale weight of 600kg.

Again I would stress the need to get your silage tested prior to feeding.

The ewe lambs will be fed silage No. 3 for the entire hous­ing period which should supply enough energy and protein for growth and weight gain.

They will consume about 1kg of dry matter silage per day for 70 days housing which equates to 9,100kg of DM in total or 54 bales. They should be moni­tored over the winter period with lighter ones penned and fed accordingly.

Clifford will require 90 bales of silage to feed his sheep flock over the winter period if he uses silages No 3 and 4 with the highest UFL of 0.78.

Next year, Clifford’s aim is to improve silage quality to 75pc DMD which will reduce concentrate requirements and improve profit per ewe.

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