10 September 1999

HOME-MIXED FEED MAY BE BEST BET

Wondering what to do with your grain this harvest? Home-

mixing and feeding it to your flock could be a cost effective

option, but take heed of nutritional advice – and consider the

quality of this years hay and silage. Jeremy Hunt reports

SHEEP producers considering feeding a home-mixed ration to in-lamb ewes will probably get better value pound for pound in terms of energy and protein compared with a compound feed.

Thats the opinion of independent nutritionist Gillian Butler, but she adds that other factors have to be considered. "The decision to feed a home-mixed ration has implications in terms of feed storage and extra labour requirements."

Whether using home-produced or purchased supplements for ewes, producers should formulate the ration based on the quality of forage available.

"It not only dictates the amount of feed but also, to some extent, the types of straights to be used," says Mrs Butler, who is based at Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Silage and hay should be analysed as the starting point. High- quality silage may be able to supply adequate energy and protein; when silage quality is poor, higher levels of supplementation are needed, but a cheap protein balancer such as rape- seed meal or maize gluten can be fed.

"A proprietary protein/mineral concentrate could be used to supplement home-grown cereals and mixed at the rate of 2:1 or 3:1. Depending on the protein levels of forage, overall protein of the total ration should be 16-18%.

"If there is a high protein level in the silage – over 16% – and a high level of cereals is being fed, the balance of energy and protein in the diet means rumen bugs could produce sufficient for ewes without the need for extra protein supplements."

Mrs Butler says opinions have changed on the use of whole cereals for feeding ewes. If only 0.25kg of cereals are being fed its better if cereals are processed to ensure adequate digestion before being washed from the rumen.

"Ewes on a highly digestible silage have a higher rumen throughput which means cereals are washed through much faster. On poorer forage, say hay or straw, turnover is slower and whole grain can be fully broken down before leaving the rumen," she says.

Rolled cereal best

"My rule of thumb is where levels are below a third of a kg its better to feed rolled cereal; above that it is much safer to use whole grain. The risk of acidosis can be further reduced by offering two feeds when feeding above 0.5kg a head a day."

Where high quality silage is fed, ewe diets could be based around a 22.5% soya inclusion in the ration, to give a diet of just over 18% protein when mixed with a standard quality cereal.

Mrs Butler says she has encountered many flocks where producers fail to exploit good quality silage and feed an 18% sheep concentrate, when a much cheaper home-mixed ration could significantly reduce feed costs.

"And quite often it is possible to get away with just sugar beet pulp or even barley as a supplement in the early stages of feeding pregnant ewes."

She believes lower cost and improved performance are the two big advantages of home-mixed rations. "You can be far more effective in meeting the animals dietary requirements if you have different feeds."

Although home-mixing does increase labour input, sheep rations do not necessarily have to be physically mixed. Many flocks which do not have mixing facilities are successfully feeding straights as individual feeds at either end of the day.

"It is possible to feed soya and minerals in the morning and barley in the afternoon. Most protein feeds such as soya, rape, maize gluten and distillers grains are palatable enough on their own.

"And if protein is fed in the morning, the extra nitrogen is re-cycling in the body; although not ideal from a nutritional point of view it appears to work perfectly adequately on farm."