15 September 1995

Straw-based diet for Sussex ewes – and untreated

By Sue Rider

WEST SUSSEX sheep producer James Seller will feed a straw-based diet to his ewes during winter housing to stretch limited fodder supplies.

Mr Seller runs 440 ewes at 146ha (360-acre) Park Farm, Arundel.

He usually feeds hay to his ewes at housing but this year has only 25% of his forage requirements.

"Weve no where near enough to feed all the ewes this winter and will keep what little forage there is for the thinner ones," he says. The rest will be offered straw.

Mr Seller has planted 20ha (50 acres) of stubble turnips for winter keep – but so far these have been slow to establish. He has also sown 8ha (20 acres) of Italian ryegrass for an early spring bite.

Most of his ewes lamb early in January and will be milking off the indoor-fed straw ration. For advice on supplementing the ration he contacted ADAS livestock consultant Elwyn Rees.

He advised Mr Seller against feeding treated straw: "Ewes are selective and will waste 25%-30% of straw on offer," says Mr Rees. "Treating it at £30 a tonne improves its digestibility but ewes will still waste the straw and I doubt whether the extra feed value will justify treatment costs." Furthermore it would still be necessary to offer a supplement with the treated straw. Instead he recommends untreated straw.

This year Mr Seller aims to house his January lambing ewes seven weeks before lambing. That is two weeks earlier than he would normally do so because he is having to acclimatise them to the straw feeding.

Mr Rees suggested that, alongside ad-lib barley straw, the ewes were offered a high energy (at least 12.5 ME) supplement comprising 20% of a high quality protein (including fishmeal).

Seven weeks before lambing this will be fed at 0.65kg a head a day and increased gradually so twin-bearing ewes are on about 1kg just before lambing. For the first three weeks of lactation the ewes will be fed 50% more of the supplement (1.5kg a head a day) alongside the ad lib barley straw.

Mr Seller will reduce the concentrate allowance to 1kg a head a day by the end of the fourth week, 0.8kg a head a day by the end fifth week – until one week before weaning at six weeks the ewes are taking only 0.5kg a head a day.

At this stage the protein in the concentrate should also be removed to help the ewes dry up, adds Mr Rees. He advises feeding ewes plain cereals or sugar beet pulp. For the single-bearing ewes he suggests offering 0.15kg-0.2kg a head a day less feed at each stage.

Mr Rees cautions that scanning will be more important than ever this year to determine how many lambs ewes are carrying and so allocate scarce feed resources to best effect.

Twin and single bearing ewes in good body condition (condition score 2.5 or above) on limited grazing until eight weeks prior to lambing will require 0.5kg of a high energy 12.5 ME, 16% protein supplement with ad-lib straw. Those in poorer condition would require 0.6kg/head/day of the supplement. This can be whole cereals supplemented with soya for protein – in which case Mr Rees recommends that 1t of the mix comprises 775kg of whole cereals, 200kg of soyabean meal, and 25kg of minerals and vitamins.

From eight weeks before lambing twin and single bearing ewes should be split with single bearing ewes receiving 0.15-0.2kg a head a day less at each stage (see box) for supplement needs for twin-bearing ewes on straw diets in run-up to lambing.

&#8226 Mr Seller usually offers 0.2kg a day of the feed requirements as feed blocks to his January lambing ewes – and will do so again this year. Although not cost effective in feed terms, they allow lambs to get used to eating supplement at an early age – enabling them to adapt to creep feeding so much more quickly. And because the lambs are taking less milk at this stage, Mr Seller finds the practice reduces mastitis levels at weaning.

"If silage is short and you have to feed an expensive concentrate to your ewes it makes sense to encourage the lambs to take concentrate as soon as possible themselves so it is possible to dry off the ewes," adds Mr Rees.

James Seller is offering high-energy 18% protein rolls to early-lambing Poll Dorset x Mule ewes.