Best feed and least cost vital for indoor finishing
CULL ewes can be finished indoors to achieve appropriate body condition scores for sale, but choosing the appropriate feed, and finishing at least cost, is crucial.
Ewes should finish in a month when offered ad lib forage – hay, silage or long grass – and 1kg cereal and beet pulp – 14-16% crude protein – a day, split into two feeds.
Finishing thin Blackface ewes will require about 100kg concentrates plus 25kg hay in total and crossbred ewes 30% more. Even with moderate quality hay, ewes can pick out high quality leafy material and leave stems and poor quality parts. With silage, sheep are unable to separate better and poorer quality material, so if silage is offered to sheep, it must be best quality.
With housed ewes, where all food can be offered in known amounts, uniform condition can be readily achieved by grouping ewes according to condition and feeding each group appropriately. An increase of about 6-7% liveweight corresponds to an improvement of half a unit in body condition score, so as a rough rule each 1kg change in weight is equivalent to a change of about 0.1 units of condition score.
Rations fed to housed sheep will generally contain cereals or cereal-based concentrates, and the protein content is usually sufficient for ewes on maintenance diets. Pay particular attention to the quantities and proportions of rumen degradable and undegradable protein if unusual types of dietary constituents are being considered for elderly sheep.
Always beware of acidosis risks. Rapid ingestion of concentrates can cause a rise in lactic acid in the rumen, leading to a pH fall in the rumen, and alter the rumen microflora. This curbs appetite, and sheep may die of starvation. Avoid acidosis by feeding concentrates at a low level to start with, gradually increasing intake. Sheep are able to process whole grain better than cattle, so there is no need to crush or bruise grain.