TMR can cut ewe costs

Since deciding to feed a total mixed ration (TMR) to his 1550 ewes, John Gray, Unthank Farm, Whittingham, Northumberland, has seen huge improvements to ewe condition and performance.

“Moving to a TMR is the best thing I’ve ever done. You are in complete control of body condition, ewes lamb perfectly and are full of milk.

“When we were feeding concentrates, sheep were constantly fighting over it, creating greater risk of abortion close to lambing.

“We had always fed silage separately to ewes, so it made sense to combine the two in a TMR.”

So after purchasing a mixer wagon for his 150 cow suckler herd, Mr Gray decided to change the way he fed his 1200 mules and 350 Scottish Blackface ewes.

“Because food is always in front of them, TMR is as close to natural grazing as you can get – ewes never rush in and the whole thing is incredibly simple.”

But to get the most from a TMR, good quality, home-produced forages are a must, stresses Mr Gray. “We have now moved to using forage wagons to produce top quality silages, which are feeding exceptionally well.”

Ewes receive 5kg of TMR a ewe a day, six to eight weeks before lambing. The ration consists of 3kg grass silage, 1kg red clover, 0.5-0.75kg cereal and 0.1-0.2kg soya.

Grouping ewes according to body condition and number of lambs carried is also even more important when feeding a TMR, says Keenan‘s Seth Wareing. “Because feed is always available, feeding sheep a TMR will reduce the incidence of twin lamb disease, but big bully ewes can prolapse a lot easier.”

Three years ago we made the mistake of letting ewes get too fat and suffered the consequences in terms of twin lamb disease, says Mr Gray.

“There’s also the potential risk of lambs getting too big. Now we like to run ewes a bit leaner at about condition score 2.5-3 just before they go onto the TMR. This way you know you are in control of them.” Ewes are also split and fed according to condition and lambs carried.

When sheep are managed well you can virtually eliminate metabolic problems, says Mr Wareing.

“It is also important to provide adequate feed space when feeding a TMR to sheep. Sheep are a lot greedier than cattle, so if there is limited space you could easily experience problems with animals getting their head stuck.

“Stock can be fed once a day, as long as feed is pushed up at least three times. Alternatively, you can feed the same mix in three to four small feeds throughout the day.”

Ewes can be kept on a TMR for 24 hours after lambing and then put out to grass. “And because ewes are nice and full, they will be less likely to neglect their lambs once they go out,” he says.

All ewes at Unthank Farm receive the same basic TMR prior to lambing, with triplets receiving about 0.25kg more grain, up to a maximum of 0.75kg/ewe/day.

Now you never find a thin ewe among them, they are like “peas in a pod”, says Mr Gray.

“Irrespective of the cattle, the mixer wagon has made its money back in two years – I am completely sold with the idea and would recommend it to anyone. The savings made in terms of sheep health are huge – you can practically see them smiling.”

Feeding a TMR will cost three quarters of the cost of conventional feeding and you would expect labour costs to be less, says Mr Wareing.

Since changing to a TMR we have dropped concentrate usage from 60-70t to 20t, explains Mr Gray. “And we have managed to halve our costs by using our own grain.”

John-GreyAnd using a TMR does not have to mean a huge investment in a mixer wagon, says Mr Wareing. “For sheep farmers who may only use the wagon for five to eight weeks of the year, a second-hand mixer wagon can do just as good job, as long as the machine can produce an even mix throughout.”

And when producers have a wagon already in place, it is cheaper and easier to feed sheep a TMR and could potentially reduce metabolic problems, says Mr Wareing.