24 March 2000

Lots of benefits if youll just give peas a chance

Are peas alone a good

enough feed to finish lambs

or maintain ewes during

pregnancy, or do they need

supplementing with

concentrates or other forage?

James Garner investigates

PEAS are high in protein and energy, cheap to buy, easy to store and feed, and they are GM-free.

So why arent more people feeding them to sheep? It could be a past legacy, says David OConnell, who farms at Top Farm, Lidlington, Beds, with his wife, Diane.

"Years ago you were told not to feed silage or whole cereals to sheep. These are all acceptable sheep feeds now, but I think peas suffer from the same sort of stigma."

Peas are also now much cheaper. A few years ago they were too costly for feeding, because of an EU subsidy that entitled growers to extra money if they were processed.

In recent years this has changed and Mr OConnell now buys peas for about £80/t from a local estate. But, he warns, order peas early, as they may not be easy to buy when producers want to feed them.

"There is little information about where to buy peas from. I tried compounders and feed merchants and they had no idea, so I rang around local farms until I found some."

Now convinced of their benefits, Mr OConnell gives whole peas to both ewes and lambs. Ewes are fed peas and grass silage before lambing, and the same combination is also used to finish lambs. "I have never had sheep suffer any digestive problems while eating peas. Some lambs may gorge themselves when they first have it, but once they do this and recover, they never do it again."

With peas providing protein of 21% and energy of 10.5ME it is nutritionally acceptable to finish lambs on such a diet, but will ewes during pregnancy have all their nutritional needs met by peas and grass silage? Mr OConnell believes so and says results at Top Farm prove it, with no ewes suffering twin lamb or metabolic disorders. The key may be top quality, high ME silage fed alongside peas, he says.

His 240 Charollais cross Texel ewes are housed when the weather turns and there is not enough grass. They are sheared at housing and given 2kg of silage a day.

Six weeks before lambing they are offered peas according to the number of lambs they are carrying. Single bearers are fed 200g a day, twins 400g a day, and triplets 1kg a day. The sudden increase in peas fed to triplet ewes is simply because they cannot eat enough silage because of their lack of rumen space, says Mr OConnell.

For a single-bearing ewe, offering peas throughout the winter feeding period costs only 70p. "No other supplements are offered, but you must have top class silage."

This means using only first cut silage – though not all from first year leys – and an additive. "It does not cost any more to make good silage as opposed to bad, but it costs a lot to bag water, and wet bales go off faster."

Silage costs

Silage is often regarded as being dear to make and Mr OConnell does not dismiss this. "We reckon on using one bale of silage a ewe during winter, and it costs £15 a bale to make, increasing feed costs."

But will a ration of good quality silage and peas provide pregnant ewes with enough protein? According to Mr OConnell whole peas, which have not been micronised or processed, retain a large amount of by-pass protein. "They are also high in lysine, a much needed amino-acid for sheep," he says.

But it is not only peas nutritional quality that attracts him to feeding them; it is also their palatability. "Lambs love them."

Lambs are bought-in off grass when fields become muddy and wet. They are then offered silage. When they have adjusted to being indoors they are offered 0.45kg a head of whole peas. Whole peas are fed as if they were a green pelleted concentrate, says Mr OConnell. "Lambs are fed peas alone, but from their reaction, peas must be palatable."

Lambs gradually build-up to 1kg a head a day of peas fed with silage, although silage intakes stay low throughout finishing, he says.

"We continue feeding lambs the same total quantity each day, pulling out those that finish and sending them to market. This way the feed on offer rises for those lambs left."

It is difficult to quantify carcass data because Mr OConnells lambs are sold through a live market at Thrapston, Northants. But anecdotal evidence suggests his lambs grow well on their diet.

FEEDING PEAS

&#8226 High protein feed.

&#8226 Palatable.

&#8226 Cheaper now.

David OConnell feeds whole peas to his 240 Charollais cross Texel ewes, and believes they are an ideal feed offered alongside silage.