12 December 1997

Compound works wonders

Despite growing a large

acreage of cereals, one

Northants producer has

chosen to floor feed his

2300 ewes with rolls and

pencils. Emma Penny

reports

CHEAP cereals have encouraged many flockmasters to contemplate home mixing. But for Northants producer John Matts that wasnt an option, despite growing 506ha (1250 acres) of combinable crops.

This winter, his 2300 Finn Dorset ewes, which lamb in December and January, will be floor fed a 18% protein, 12.6 ME compound ration formulated to specifications set by the buying group of which he is a member.

"We grow wheat, oilseed rape, beans and a small acreage of barley on the farm, but have decided to go for compound feed for several reasons,"explains Mr Matts.

Home mill-and-mixing has been tried in the past at his Creaton Grange Farm, Creaton, North-ampton. "We found it very time consuming – it was almost a full-time job – besides the added hassle and dust concerns."

Mr Matts was also worried about the lack of consistency of a home-mixed ration, and the fact that there was inadequate storage on farm for individual ration ingredients.

Another factor against feeding cereals is that they may be too dry, warns independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings. "Where cereals have been dried down for sale to below 14% moisture they are too dry for successfully feeding sheep."

She says that dry cereals will pass straight through sheep undigested. "Ideally, cereals should be 14% moisture or more for feeding. Where they are less than that, increasing moisture by 1% entails adding 1gal of water a tonne, which is not practical."

These concerns mean all Mr Matts ewes will be floor-fed compound feed in the run up to lambing. Feeding begins outside, six weeks before lambing, when ewes are offered 16mm rolls, switching to pencils when they are housed a couple of weeks before lambing.

"Feeding rolls on the ground is ideal outside – particularly with such large numbers to feed. Poaching is far less of a concern than when we used to use troughs, and its also much faster and easier."

Ms Stubbings adds that floor feeding also reduces risk of ewes contracting campylobacter. "Birds, which often eat out of feed troughs in winter, carry campylobacter in their droppings which can cause abortion."

According to Mr Matts, feeding rolls on the ground also helps ensure older ewes receive adequate feed. "Rolls become moist and break down fairly easily."

At housing, ewes are floor-fed concentrate of an identical quality in pencils. Floor feeding, where the ewes pick pencils out of the straw bedding, has many benefits, he says.

"Its easier to feed according to pen size, slows down eating, means theres more space for feeding – and so less jostling – and is good for shy feeders."

According to Ms Stubbings, floor feeding is becoming increasingly popular, and is a good way of ensuring there is adequate space for feeding. "Its rare that all animals can get to feed at once where troughs are being used."

Floor feeding also reduces cost as each trough space is estimated at £8-10 a ewe, she says. "Doing away with troughs means that more ewes can be stocked in buildings."

But she warns that feeding on the floor means straw must be kept as clean as possible, and ewes bedded regularly with clean straw.

In the past, Mr Matts has relied on straw as the long fibre in ewe rations, but an excess of poorer-than-hoped-for hay this year means it is being fed in place of straw.

Where producers do choose to feed straw, at least 1.5kg a ewe should be allowed each day, says Ms Stubbings. "Ewes will eat about 1kg/head/day." Hay at Creaton Grange Farm is currently being analysed, and final rations will be calculated on the basis of results.

Currently, December-lambing triplet bearers are housed and receiving 1kg/head/day concentrate, built up from an initial 0.25kg/head/day offered six weeks before lambing.

"There may be another step up, but it depends on hay analysis," explains Mr Matts.

All ewes are scanned, and fed according to the number of lambs being carried. Reliance on Finn Dorsets means most will be carrying more than one lamb, and Mr Matts has found that feeding these ewes a smaller amount a day, but over a longer period is most effective.

John Matts has opted for compound feed, despite growing a large acreage of cereals. High quality compound feed is better value than lesser formulations, says independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings. Inset: Ewes are fed rolls at grass, then an identical compound formulation on the

floor at housing.

ON-FLOOR FEEDING

&#8226 Easier.

&#8226 Quicker.

&#8226 Less space required.

&#8226 Less acidosis risk.

&#8226 Better for shy feeders.