Home mixing is back in fashion

GROWING AND mixing your own feeds may have gone out of fashion in recent times, with the ever-increasing quality of concentrate feeds available, but Tenbury Wells-based John Adams believes it”s worth the effort.

One of the main plusses to home mixing is knowing exactly what”s in each batch of feed made and being able to easily adjust the ration such as when sheep need a higher protein percentage, says Mr Adams of The Old Manor House, Bockleton.

Each winter he feeds home-mixed rations to 450 in-lamb ewes, 150 finishing cattle and about 250 finishing hoggets from the previous year”s lambing. This means quality ingredients and palatable rations are essential.

Most ingredients for the feeds are home-grown, with just soya and a high protein pellet bought in to increase protein levels. “The feeds are fairly basic, with wheat, barley and beans the main constituents of all the feeds,” says Mr Adams.

For the finishing hoggets a 14% protein mix is made containing 42.5% barley, 30% wheat, 25% beans and 2.5% minerals. “Hoggets generally finish well off this mix and ad-lib silage. But should we ever need to increase the protein percentage, we take out 50kg of barley and replace it with 50kg of soya. This increases protein by 2%,” he explains. Mixing this might seem a hassle, but at current grain and protein prices it”s costing about 75/t to produce the 14% protein mix, reckons Mr Adams.

It was a switch away from home-mixed ewe feeds about 15 years ago which convinced him of the benefits of growing and mixing his own feeds. “We tried a concentrate feed for one year, but a lot of ewes suffered with twin lamb disease, a condition we had seen rarely if at all when feeding home-mixed rations in the past.

“We went back to growing and mixing our own feed again the following year and have hardly seen any metabolic problems since. It may have just been a bad year, but with home-grown cereals and beans available it seemed best to stick with what we knew.”

Mr Adams” ewe mix is essentially the same as the hogget feed, but it contains a 40% protein pellet to increase protein levels to about 18%. “It”s 20% wheat, 43% barley, 17% beans and 20% protein pellets and is fed alongside ad-lib grass and maize silage. This is costing about 95/t in ingredients, plus about 12/t for milling and mixing costs.”

Ewes are housed from late December and feeding starts about four to six weeks before lambing depending on ewe condition. Early-March lambing ewes are offered 0.2kg a head to start with, moving up to 0.5kg a head at lambing.

But unlike most flocks Mr Adams doesn”t scan his ewes. “It might save a bit of money as we wouldn”t be feeding barren ewes, but we can usually spot them fairly easily by the lack of udder development and pull them off early on,” he says.

Once lambed, ewes are put out to grass within two to three days and fed the same mix as before lambing with high magnesium buckets put out to prevent staggers.

Single lambs are offered creep feed from about two weeks old, which is a similar mix to the hogget finishing ration. Lamb sales start in early July.

“Mixing and milling feeds may take time, but it can be left to mix while you get on with another task on the farm, so it doesn”t make much difference to the routine,” adds Mr Adams.