Winter feeding

It’s never too early to be thinking about winter ewe feeding. What should you be thinking about?

forage

Forage - have you got enough?

Think about your flock size and do some calculations to see if you have adequate to see you through the winter. Table 1 provides approximate forage quantities required for a flock of 300, 70kg ewes fed ad-lib for three months of winter.

Table 1: approximate forage quantities required by 300, 70kg ewes for three months

Forage type

kg/ewe

Quantity (t) for 300 ewes

Hay

120

36

Big bale silage (40% dry matter)

270

81

Clamp silage (30% dry matter)

350

105

Forage quality – what’s it like? hay or silage cutting date and stage of growth will have a huge influence on quality. Early cuts with lots of leaf and little stem will have high feeding value whereas late cuts with lots of stem and little leaf will be of poor digestibility.

Analysis: forage digestibility (D value) largely dictates the amount of supplement required close to lambing so getting an analysis done now will help you to plan winter feed purchases and quality of supplements. For instance, if the forage has low protein you will need to balance this with a higher protein supplement; note, protein supplements vary in protein quality.

Take representative samples: if you are going to analyse your forage make sure that samples are taken correctly. There is no point in taking one handful of hay or silage and expecting that to represent the whole winter supply.

  • Hay bales: take samples form the middle of a number of bales – six or eight bales from each stack
  • Silage: take core samples from at least five bales per stack or a minimum of three cores for a 500 tonne clamp

If your feed supplier is taking the samples and doing the analysis, then make sure they take proper representative samples. If you have several cuts of forage then take separate samples for each cut.

Interpreting the results: if you have trouble understanding all the detail on a silage or hay analysis – ask for an explanation. We will supply a guide in a future article.

Finally, plan: talk to your compound feed/straights supplier now to get details of feed formulations and prices for this winter. Remember that high quality forages need very little supplementation for ewes in late pregnancy – perhaps just a protein supplement.

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