26 February 1999

Ewes mixed forage diet safeguards farm profits

By Simon Wragg

PREGNANT ewes are fed mixed forages rather than barley straw and concentrates on one Northants unit, boosting margins by almost £2 a ewe.

The 215-ewe early lambing flock of North Country Mules overseen by farm manager Mark Robins at Lodge Farm, Moulton College, Northampton, has swit-ched diets to address two financial concerns – cutting concentrate use and spreading overheads.

Mr Robins says a holistic view of variable and fixed costs is being taken to improve profits, especially as little can be done about low lamb prices. To safeguard profits, the previous ration of good quality barley straw at £50/t and ewe concentrate at £130/t is being replaced with a mixed forage of grass and maize silage. This is giving a feed saving of £1.85 a ewe over late pregnancy and early lambing.

"Weve more than enough grass and maize silage for our 190-cow dairy unit and a mixer wagon which stands idle between feeding rounds. If we can make use of these for the sheep unit, on-farm costs can be spread further and the need to buy in feed will be cut."

Working with independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbing, Mr Robins has formulated a 1:2 maize:grass silage ration supplemented with a small amount of a 20% protein concentrate (see table). The ration supplies a single bearing ewes feed requirements from daily intakes of 4.5kg of the mixed ration. For ewes carrying twins an additional 0.2kg concentrate a ewe/day is fed on the floor to avoid barging.

To ensure adequate access to feed, stocking rates have been lowered to allow each ewe 25cm (10 inch) space at the feed fence.

According to shepherd Stefan Marks, the mixed forage has cut stress levels in ewes: "On straw-based diets theres more rush when concentrates are fed out. We dont see that now and its common to see all ewes lying cudding within an hour of feeding."

Mr Robins now hopes to use mixed forage rations with the colleges main flock of 580 North Country Mule ewes. "The biggest headache is sorting out feed space. This is higher on the mixed forage system than where straw is fed out of ring feeders," he says.

Overall the forage diet has cut concentrate requirements by 37kg/ ewe for the six-week pre-lambing and three-week post-lambing period, a total saving of £4.25/ewe. But extra cost of mixed forage compared with feeding barley straw pulls savings back to £1.85/ewe.

"That saving is still significant when looking at text book margins of £33/ewe. However, in years when forage supplies are tight, priority will be given to dairy cows. The economics of sheep production just dont stack up against those for the dairy unit."

Logistically, using the diet feeder for sheep rations fits in well. After morning feeding at the dairy its reloaded and driven from the neighbouring unit to Lodge Farm. "This helps spread fixed costs."

Mixed ration at Moulton

Colleges Lodge Farm

Ingredients 6-3 weeks 3-0 weeks

(kg/t TMR) pre-lambing pre-lambing

Grass silage 650 650

Maize silage 325 325

Concentrate

(20% CP) 0 50

Vits and mins* 2.5 0

Intake/ewe/day 4.5kg 4.5kg

*Concentrate includes vitamins and minerals – no need for supplements.