DPI livestock officers provide drought feeding advice

Ongoing dry conditions throughout the State are resulting in a high volume of calls to NSW Department of Primary Industries livestock officers for advice on stock feeding regimes.

Dubbo district livestock officer Alex Russell said farmers in his region were concerned about the welfare of breeding stock with many requesting information on the best approach to feeding pregnant and lactating ewes.

“Energy is the most important factor when feeding breeding ewes,” Mr Russell said.

“During late pregnancy and lactation protein becomes more important but provided minimum protein requirements are met energy is still the most critical factor.”

All grain-fed sheep need calcium and sodium supplementation. This can be easily and cheaply provided by adding agricultural lime (1.5 per cent by weight) and salt (0.5 per cent by weight) to the ration.

A 50 kg dry ewe being fed grain like barley with a metabolisable energy content of 13 megajoules per kg dry matter, would need 550 g per head per day to maintain weight in a bare paddock. The minimum protein requirement for a dry sheep is six per cent.

Mr Russell said pregnant ewes could be fed in the same way as dry sheep until five or six weeks prior to lambing.

“At this point the ration needs to be built up to 1.7 times the amount needed by a dry sheep and this should be provided throughout the last month of pregnancy,” Mr Russell said.

“In the last month of pregnancy the minimum protein requirement is eight per cent.

“Then just prior to lambing - perhaps when the first lamb hits the ground - the ration needs to be built up to 2.5 times that of a dry sheep for the first month of lactation.

“After this the ration can be reduced to 1.8 times that of a dry sheep with minimum protein of 12 per cent.

“In addition the diet for lactating ewes should include 20 per cent roughage.”

Mr Russell said if the feeding program was started at the right time and ewes were fed adequate amounts, mismothering would be kept to a minimum.

Weaned lambs or lambs old enough to eat grain need a ration higher in quality (and more expensive) than that of dry ewes, according to Mr Russell.

Therefore he said it was cheaper to wean early and feed lambs separately. Lambs could be weaned when they were at least eight weeks old and weighed a minimum of 8kg, he said.

“Creep gates and self feeders are an excellent option for those wanting to leave the lambs on their mothers for a few extra weeks without wasting a high quality ration on the ewes - whose milk only makes up a small proportion of their lambs' diet after eight weeks,” Mr Russell said.

He said when considering drought feeding options it was important to take into account that cost per unit of energy could vary enormously from feed to feed.

“Producers must compare all the options that fit within the constraints of the enterprise – for example whether you are set up to handle a grain feeding program,” Mr Russell said.

“Basically the lower the energy content of the feed the higher the quantity of feed will be needed - therefore feeds with a lower energy content must be cheaper if they are to be considered.”

Mr Russell said wheat at $200 per tonne, oats at $160 per tonne, lucerne hay at $130 per tonne and wheat straw at $80 per tonne represented equivalent value for money in terms of energy (using average figures for energy content).

However he said the use of more expensive feeds like lucerne hay could be justified in some circumstances – for example where protein was important but it was not practical to feed grain.

NSW DPI livestock officers can be contacted on the following telephone numbers:

Dubbo Alex Russell 6881 1212 0417 492 614
Trangie Edward Joshua 6880 8041 0427 800 376
Broken Hill Trudie Atkinson (08) 8087 1222 0427 102 431
Cowra Ashley White 6349 9727 0411 139 654
Orange Peter Johnson 6391 3967 0427 000 807
Tamworth Michael Lollback 6763 1257 0427 201 720
Wagga Wagga Geoff Casburn 6938 1630 0428 420 886
Yanco Geoff Duddy 6951 2688 0427 007 490
Hay Sally Ware 6993 1608  
Deniliquin Ian Evans (03) 5881 9920 0427 102 287
Goulburn Col Langford 4828 6626 0411 139 708
Cooma Doug Alcock 6452 3411 0411 139 594
Yass Phil Graham 6226 2199 0407 435 071
Glen Innes Chris Shands 6730 1928 0411 139 702
Armidale Bob Marchant 6776 5011 0427 008 461