8 August 1997

Ewes fed vegetable diet – and its cheaper too

With the buyer specifying fishmeal-free diets for lambs, one Berks-based sheep producer has decided to exclude fishmeal from the ewes winter rations as well. Jonathan Riley reports

CONCERNS over BSE and supermarket pressures attracted Tracey Rolfe, manager of 120ha (300-acre) Hatchgate Farm, Hatchgate, Berks, to exclude fishmeal from ewe diets as well as those of lambs.

The farms 450 February lambing Suffolk Mule crosses have a lambing percentage of 180%. Lambs are finished within 16 weeks and 90% achieve a premium for falling within fat class 2 to 3L with carcass weights of only 15-19.5kg and grading R and above.

These are the requirements of processor Chittys, which supplies the supermarket Waitrose and stipulates that lambs must be reared on diets with protein sources other than fishmeal.

"Chittys allows fishmeal to be fed to ewes. But continuing to feed a fishmeal diet to ewes would mean that extra bins would have to be provided to store the separate diets. The recent BSE and bonemeal scare also added to our concerns, so we decided to cut out fishmeal altogether," says Mr Rolfe.

"Our own barley is used in the ration so that we can provide greater traceability if the buyer demands it. All we need is a bin of barley and a bin of BOCM Pauls 32% sheep mix, which is formulated using a variety of vegetable protein sources instead of fishmeal.

"We then blend the sheep mix with varying proportions of barley to dilute the protein percentage of the whole diet. Proportions of between 20-25% sheepmix are used to create diets with 16-20% crude protein and 13 ME."

These diets are then fed from six weeks pre lambing at rates tailored to the results of scanning at 80-100 days into pregnancy.

Results are used to split ewes into single, twin and triplet bearers. Groups are then fed from 250g a head a day and 16% protein for singles six weeks pre-lambing, up to 1kg a head a day and 18% protein for triplet bearing ewes before lambing. Protein is increased to 20% to support milk yields after lambing.

Milk yields are also raised by offering maize silage fed 1:1 with grass silage. "But because ewes and lambs prefer maize silage, we have to restrict access to maize and feed it out in troughs," explains Mr Rolfe. "This ensures that the ewes consume equal quantities of the grass and maize silage so avoiding prolapses." After lambing maize and grass silage is fed ad lib.

"Maize is also low in calcium and magnesium so we have had to provide a supplement high in these minerals. The make-up of the mineral supplement is further adjusted according to the ewes blood profile and regular forage analysis."

Costs of feeding the ration with the new protein supplement are less than for the previous ration including fishmeal.n

Ewes at Hatchgate Farm are now on a late first-cut silage aftermath.