How a Welsh sheep farmer slashed winter ration costs

Keith Williams is shaving £4 an ewe off its pre-lambing feed costs by switching to a TMR system that incorporates a treated soya product with high-quality silage.

Mr Williams runs 885 Lleyn and Texel-cross ewes at Hendy, a 160ha upland farm at Hundred House, near Llandrindod Wells.

He had traditionally fed twin- and triplet-bearing ewes concentrates up to twice a day, starting from eight weeks before lambing, but wanted to reduce the cost and labour input associated with this.

See also: TMR feed system increases lamb production on mixed farm

Farm facts

  • Ewes mated with Lleyn and Texel rams
  • Lamb supplied to Waitrose
  • Small flock of Texels, performance recorded for growth rates and muscle depth
  • The entire farm, of which 154ha are owned, is in the Glastir agri-environmental scheme
  • Closed herd of 20 pedigree Welsh Black cattle

He has achieved both these aims with a TMR that combines a source of protected protein high in digestible undegradable protein (DUP) and clamp silage with a minimum metabolisable energy (ME) of 10.5 that meets the energy and protein needs of ewes in late pregnancy.

The new feeding system, which Mr Williams first trialled through his work as a Farming Connect Focus Site, cost £1.36 an ewe in the 2017 lambing period compared with £5.50 an ewe when the flock was fed concentrates.

Mr Williams, a former Farmers Weekly Sheep Farmer of the Year winner, calculates this has resulted in an overall cost saving of about £4,190.

“It’s a huge amount and has benefits that go way beyond the actual cost saving on feed,’’ he says.

During the winter of 2016-17, ewes were outwintered on a forage crop before they were housed 30 days before lambing. At this point they were introduced to the new ration with 50g of the protected protein allocated for each foetus carried.

The new system incurred an initial outlay of £4,750 for a new mixer wagon, but based on the cost savings, Mr Williams says the machine will pay for itself within two years.

He had been feeding 23t of concentrates, but wanted to reduce his costs to maximise output an ewe.

Keith Williams  in a field with sheep

Keith Williams © Jim Varney

Health improvements

By changing the feeding system, he says he has not only made savings on feed, but flock health has improved too.

When ewes were fed concentrates – up to 1.5kg a head a day just before lambing – there were some issues with acidosis and twin lamb disease.

Using a balanced TMR ration has reduced cases, says Catherine Nakielny, red meat technical officer at Farming Connect, who oversaw the trial.

What is protected protein soya?

This product has been used elsewhere in the farming industry, particularly in the dairy sector, but it is not commonly used in sheep systems.

It contains a high level of digestible undegradable protein (DUP), making it a highly palatable feed that can be fed on its own or used in a variety of diets.

It offers farmers big savings in time, cost and labour over conventional approaches in which rumen degradable protein (RDP) can be overfed, says Dr Nakielny.

“It means high levels of starch are not being fed and helps to avoid the metabolic upsets that feeding high levels of compounds can sometimes lead to,’’ Dr Nakielny says.

Prolapses, which can be due to feeding high levels of concentrates, have decreased in number too, she reports.


Ewes being fed the TMR diet also seemed more content and rested for longer periods, she adds. “Keith has observed that 20% of ewes didn’t push forward when fresh feed was added.”

Importance of feeding high-quality silage

The system, Dr Nakielny stresses, does rely on high-quality silage. The beneficial effects of protected soya protein can only be fully realised if silage has a minimum ME of 10.5.

Feeding a silage with ME levels lower than this means extra energy is needed in the diet.

“In some cases straight soya can be fed in the ration, or alternatively other higher-energy feeds can be added to the diet to help ensure a balance of energy and protein in the crucial run-up to lambing,’’ Dr Nakielny advises.

© Jim Varney

Analysis of the 2016 cut clamp silage at Hendy showed it had an ME of 10.9, with a dry matter of 34% and crude protein levels of 14.4%.

Dr Nakielny says it is important not to overlook other nutritional requirements. “At Hendy, ewes are fed vitamin and mineral supplements to match the silage analysis,’’ she says.

The ewe’s body condition score must also be assessed in the run-up to lambing and action taken if needed.

Labour savings

Mr Williams calculates that the new system has saved him about 51 hours in labour over the lambing period.

He doesn’t employ any staff apart from a lambing student for two weeks during lambing.

Ewes were previously fed up to twice a day for 56 days, but that has been reduced to once a day for 30 days.

“It now only takes me up to 10 minutes a day to feed, which means I have more time to get other work done,’’ says Mr Williams.

Top tips for feeding TMR in combination with protected soya protein

  • Ensure there is adequate feed space
  • Ewes must be in good body condition
  • Good-quality palatable silage is vital and this should be tested in appropriate batches (minimum of 10.5ME)
  • The system is easiest if ewes are fed indoors before lambing, so it may not be feasible for outdoor regimes