Replacing concentrates with rumen-protected soya and feeding alongside a silage with a metabolisable energy (ME) value of 11 MJ ME/kg dry matter (DM) to pregnant ewes could allow lamb producers to capture significant cost savings and better lambing outcomes.
Speaking at a series of Farming Connect events across Wales, independent sheep specialist John Vipond said feeding protected forms of soya at 50g/day for every lamb carried and straight soya at 100g/lamb could result in a saving at current prices of more than £3 a ewe.
Dr Vipond said: “High quality silage when supplemented with soya can allow a 75 per cent reduction in concentrate use.
“Soya is the cheapest and best source of digestible undegraded protein (DUP) in the UK.’’
He urged farmers to rethink their approach to feeding pregnant ewes.
“We have been feeding sheep in the same model as we feed cattle, meeting energy requirements and topping up with protein, but the nutritional needs of modern sheep are very different to the animal that this feeding advice was first based on,” he said.
Lamb birthweights have increased and sheep have a higher nutritional requirement.
Dr Vipond said: “We used to get pregnancy toxaemia in hill ewes because they were short of glucose; we are now seeing this in lowland-lambing flocks because we are overfeeding energy and underfeeding protein.
“We are losing too many ewes and lambs directly as a result of feeding them the wrong nutrition.’’
He said soya as a livestock feed did raise environmental concerns but if fed in a protected form, the amount could be halved. Protected forms were more expensive but with about twice the amount of bypass protein, it worked out better, however he said this relied on good quality silage.
Dr Vipond recommended allocating ewes ad lib silage and 50g/day/lamb carried of protected soya during the last three weeks of pregnancy. He said the maximum silage DM intake in late pregnancy should be 1.6 per cent of liveweight.
This could result in a total feed cost of £1.70 to £2 instead of feeding 25kg of concentrates at more than £5.
Dr Vipond said: “Farmers worry that sheep don’t have room to digest silage but a ewe has a rumen clearance rate of eight per cent an hour in late pregnancy instead of the usual five per cent.”
Soya only needed to be fed to multiple-bearing ewes; the nutrition in silage was adequate for those carrying single lambs he added.
Dr Vipnod said: “As the protein in protected soya is undegraded, it does not need to be fed daily; it can be given every other day at double the daily allocation.”
He said modern bales were too dense to be fed in ring feeders and if ewes were expected to eat more forage, it must be easy for them. He said it was best to shake out or chop bales where possible and a minimum of six inches of feeding space should be allowed per ewe.
“One big bale will feed 4-5 ewes. Identify how many you need now and set these aside for feeding in the final month,’’ said Dr Vipond.
Llifon Davies, red meat technical officer for Farming Connect, South West Wales, said condition scoring ewes at this stage of pregnancy was important too.
“Feeding the right nutrition not only makes a big difference to how ewes lamb but to their colostrum quality too. It will also reduce the risk of watery mouth and twin lamb disease.’’
· Check ewe condition now
· Identify the quality of forage and its availability
· Maximise cheap forage intake
· Identify nutritional deficits in the diet
· Find the best diet solutions
· Feed without causing metabolic upsets or disturbance
· Replace concentrates and save money on feed and labour