Welsh unit feeds blocks for best of all worlds…
Managing ewes in the uplands to maximise their potential can be tricky. Rebecca Austin discovers how one hill shepherd ensures flock performance on a day-to-day basis
CLWYD producer Rupert Greenwell uses feed blocks to maximise production from his 2250 ewe flock at Dyffryn Ceiriog Farms, Tregeiriog, Llangollen.
Feed blocks have been offered to sheep here for several years, but only intensively over the last couple. In the past Mr Greenwell has fed concentrates, as well as liquid feed, to achieve similar levels of performance. But he maintains the blocks management advantages supersede other feeding regimes.
"The main benefit is the saving in time and labour, as well the versatility," says Mr Greenwell. "You can store the blocks outside near areas where you feed.
"During bad weather a group of 25 marooned ewes can survive on one block which will have more nutrition in it than a bale of hay. And by putting blocks out before bad weather I dont disturb the ewes, so they can continue to eat in the shelter.
"With concentrates you must feed every day, which is impossible during bad weather. Feeding concentrates in snow is also wasteful. Its unnatural for a hill ewe to eat 0.5kg of concentrates in one go – in practice the greedy ones take more and timid ewes nothing. "Ewes also waste time waiting for feed – then there is a stampede. At lambing ewes will leave their lambs and stronger ones which come with the ewes can be trampled. I tried feeding with a hopper behind the bike which was great when I started. But soon ewes became obsessed with the bike and started to follow it, whether I was feeding or not, leaving their lambs behind."
Blocks go out in early December when the grazing has gone or at the onset of bad weather – whichever arrives first. The blocks are available until the end of lambing when grass starts growing again.
By placing them strategically about the grazing area at a rate of five blocks for 200 ewes, it is possible to move sheep about the mountain depending on the weather.
"When snow is forecast I put the blocks at the bottom of the mountain, but at other times they are left at the top to encourage ewes to eat less palatable grass there," says Mr Greenwell.
At 90% dry matter, ewes find it difficult to gorge themselves, but he will often put the blocks in a windy spot which stops older ewes monopolising them at the expense of shier, younger sheep. It is recommended blocks are kept away from water supplies to prevent bloat.
When grass is not available due to bad weather Mr Greenwell also feeds big square bale silage for roughage.
Silage and blocks also balance one another when delivering them to stock on the mountain. "Blocks in a rack on the front of the tractor act as a weight to counteract the silage bale on the back," says Mr Greenwell.
Recommended intake for the blocks – which comprise cereal, minerals, sugar and oilseed by-products – is up to 200g a ewe a day. It may take a while for ewes to adapt to blocks, says Mr Greenwell, but the onset of bad weather soon changes that, and ewes are likely to eat twice as much.
Concerns that feed blocks increase flock culling rates due to broken mouths hasnt been reflected at Dyffryn Ceiriog Farms.