Meat & Livestock News

Effective Feed Management Crucial for Sheep Farming Success: Insights from Beef + Lamb New Zealand

In the dynamic world of sheep farming, the period between weaning and mating, typically spanning four months, is critical for ensuring the health and productivity of the flock.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Knowledge Hub has released a learning module highlighting the importance of strategic feed management during this period, particularly in the first two months post-weaning, to achieve optimal Body Condition Score (BCS) targets before mating.

The challenge for farmers lies in balancing the need to maintain pasture quality for growing stock while simultaneously working to improve the condition of ewes in preparation for mating. This is where the technique of Body Condition Scoring becomes invaluable.

A recommended practice is to conduct scoring around three to four weeks after weaning, a time when ewes are typically yarded for health checks. This allows for the identification of ewes in lighter conditions, who can then be separated and given preferential feeding. Meanwhile, ewes that are already at or near their ideal BCS can be maintained on their current diet.

For the maintenance of ewes with a BCS of 3 or higher, the daily feed allocation should be between 1.0 and 1.3 kg of dry matter (DM) of medium to high-quality feed, with a metabolic energy (ME) content of 10-11.

This translates to grazing on pastures approximately 5-6 cm in height. It’s important to note that grazing below 3 cm or 1500 kg DM/ha could lead to a loss in body condition. Additionally, ewes grazing on slopes require about 15% more feed than those in flat paddocks due to the increased energy expenditure.

For ewes with a BCS below 3, achieving a BCS increase of one unit requires an approximate 10% increase in their weight. To meet BCS targets before mating, ewes needing to gain 50 grams per day should be fed 30% above their maintenance requirements.

Those needing to gain 100 grams per day require a 60% increase above maintenance levels.

This guidance from Beef + Lamb New Zealand underscores the critical role of precise feed management in sheep farming, particularly in the crucial months leading up to mating. By adhering to these guidelines, farmers can significantly enhance the health and productivity of their flocks, ensuring a successful breeding season.