26 December 1997

Well tried system proves worth on busy sheep unit

Straw feeding at housing followed by the introduction of

complete diet feeding pays off for one Derbyshire sheep

producer lambing in January and April. Emma Penny reports

FEW sheep producers would be brave enough to invest in complete diet feeding, regarding it as too expensive, but for Derbyshire sheep producer Roger Hellawell it has proved its worth over the past 10 years.

Mr Hellawell runs 1250 ewes at Town End Farm, South Normanton, Alfreton. The flock is split into two groups, with about 300 Suffolk x Mules lambing in January, the rest – all Mules – lambing in April.

"Most of the sheep are housed in an old cattle building, and adapting them for trough feeding – which requires 6in a ewe for forage feeding and 18in a ewe for concentrates – would have restricted the number of sheep we could have housed."

Keeping sheep out over winter and trough feeding is not an option at Town End Farm because it is an old opencast mining site, and so poaches easily. Ewes are brought in about 12 weeks before lambing, and are usually fed a ration of straw and concentrates for six weeks before complete diet feeding begins, he explains.

"The high quality ration is kept until ewes require it, so ewes are initially fed straw and cobs on the floor, with concentrates adjusted according to the straw analysis."

While the recommendation is to allow 1.5kg a ewe a day of straw, Mr Hellawell uses 2kg a day so that ewes will pick out the best straw, increasing the ME from straw and reducing concentrate requirement.

"I reckon ewes eat about 1kg straw a day and get about 6.5ME from that. We feed wheat straw as it is more leafy."

With no farm staff, Mr Hellawell is keen to reduce labour requirements, and so will try feed blocks for the first time this year instead of cobs. "Blocks should save on feeding time, be easier to store and reduce disturbance among ewes."

Although the blocks cost almost twice as much as concentrate, he reckons ewes will require only 150g a head a day, compared with up to 300g a day concentrate. "The blocks have a high protein and urea content, which should allow the ewes to achieve a higher ME from straw, meaning they will need less from feed, hence the lower rate."

But he acknowledges that some ewes will perform less well on blocks, and plans to pull out older ewes for separate feeding.

Six weeks before lambing, ewes are switched on to the complete diet feeding. This was first tried about 10 years ago when, with advice from sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings, Mr Hellawell used a Kidd 155 forage box into which he layered feed. "The forage box cost £1000 – 10% of the cost of putting in troughs."

Initially silage and whole barley were fed together, but Mr Hellawell found ewes picked out the barley. "This meant it did not stay in the rumen long enough. We then fed silage and maize gluten, which was more successful."

Three years ago, the forage box was replaced by a feeder wagon, bought second-hand for £5000. "This has opened up more options, as the weigh cells mean it is more accurate, and gives a more consistent mix."

The system revolves round high quality clamped silage, explains Ms Stubbings. "This years silage analyses at an 11.3ME, D-value of 70, 18.8% protein and 22.5% dry matter, so it is a bit wet. But the clamp consistently analyses at 69-70D with an 11ME or better.

"Silage is expensive, but complete diet feeding means it can be used to its full potential, and can be properly balanced." This year, ewes will receive silage fed with ground barley. "Although maize gluten is reasonably priced, I had some ground barley left on farm."

Total usage of ground barley for the entire flock will come to only 20t, says Ms Stubbings. "This is about a third of average concentrate usage."

When ewes are switched to the complete diet, their ration is calculated on a predicted intake basis, she says. "Correctly predicting and carefully monitoring intake is the crux of complete diet feeding. Ewe intakes are monitored carefully for the first two weeks, and the ration reformulated if it differs from predicted levels."

Rations are calculated on how many ewes a tonne of silage will feed, she says. "I reckon 1t silage will feed 220 ewes. This rate is maintained throughout feeding, but concentrate feeding is increased in two steps before lambing.

"Four to six weeks before lambing 30kg barley, 2kg fishmeal and 5kg minerals is added to each tonne of silage, and four weeks before lambing that rises to 60kg barley and 4kg fishmeal."

According to Mr Hellawell, complete diet feeding fits in well with his farming system – and offers plenty of other benefits.

"It allows even the shyest ewes to eat without bullying, and allows ewes to regulate their own intake, which appears to work well. It also means there is a consistent product going into the rumen, allowing even digestion. We have only had two cases of twin lamb disease since starting this system." &#42

Complete diet feeding fits in well for Roger Hellawell. It also enables him top make best use of high quality silage, says Lesley Stubbings. This will be fed with ground barley, fishmeal and minerals this year (inset).

COMPLETEBENEFITS

&#8226 Consistent ration.

&#8226 Caters for shy feeders.

&#8226 Few metabolic concerns.

&#8226 Suits one man system.

&#8226 Efficient use of high quality forage.