Reduced Hay Rations
OUR EXPERIENCES FEEDING REDUCED HAY RATIONS
We first heard of "reduced hay rations" during the drought of 1999. While researching alternative feeds for sheep, I ran across an article by Joe Rook of Michigan State University about reduced hay rations or RHR. Mr Rook suggested limit feeding hay, particularly in early gestation, feeding about 2 lbs of hay plus 1 lb. of whole corn per head per day. Because corn is "nutrient dense", one pound of corn can replace about 2 lbs of hay. He stated that it is important to feed at least 2 lbs of hay/ head/ day to maintain a healthy rumen
If, like us, you purchase all of your winter feed, than reducing the amount of hay that you feed may save you money. Often times you can reduce winter feeding costs by replacing some of the hay fed with feeds such as whole corn, soy hull pellets, or malt sprout pellets. You will have to do a little research, and get out the calculator to make sure that you are feeding your sheep adequate amounts of protein, energy and other important nutrients.
The steps to calculate your ration are;
I found a website that does a lot of this work for you!
If you want to do the work for yourself, start by determining the Nutrient Requirements needed for the "stage" that your sheep are in-
Have your hay tested for nutrient values so you know how to supplement it.
Talk to your local feed dealer about the cost and availability of whole or shelled corn, barley, wheat, oats, wheat midds, and soyhull pellets or malt sprout pellets, or see;
Calculate rations using the alternative feeds by finding the nutrient values.
Early gestation ( first 4-15 weeks) is a time of lower nutrient requirements, when the ewe's nutrient needs are not much greater than maintenance, and a good time to save money by limiting feed and feeding your lesser- quality hay. Late gestation (last 6 weeks) and early lactation (first 8 weeks) are the times of highest nutritional demand, and this is the time to feed your best hay. Research has shown the importance of good nutrition and avoiding stress during implantation of the fertilized egg, which in sheep doesn't happen till about 13-30 days after the ewe is bred.
My feed dealer told me that soyhull pellets, at about 12% protein, were a good substitute for hay, so in the drought of 1999-2000 we fed the ewes 1 lb. of whole corn, 1 lb. soyhull pellets, plus 1.5 lbs. of alfalfa hay per head per day, split into 2 feedings, in early gestation. In late gestation we fed 1 lb. of whole corn, 1 lb. soyhull pellets, plus 2 lbs. of alfalfa hay per head per day. The ewes came through the winter in good condition, with average lamb weights of about 9 lbs., and a 220% lamb crop out of the mature Coopworth ewes.
Last year our feed dealer suggested that we try malt sprout pellets, with about 19% protein, as a low cost alternative feed. We had him mix a feed that was 1/3 whole corn, 2/3 malt sprout pellets and a little molasses. (protein was about 14%) We fed the sheep at the rate of 2 lbs of grass hay (could not get alfalfa) plus 2 lbs of the grain mix per head per day in early gestation. In late gestation we fed about 2.5 lbs. of grain mix, plus 2 lbs. of alfalfa hay per head per day. The ewes came through the winter a little too fat, with average lamb weights of about 11 lbs., and a 225% lamb crop out of the mature Coopworth ewes.
Be sure to periodically "condition score" individuals and adjust their ration, if needed. See Body Condition Scoring of Sheep, if you don't know how. And be sure to measure feed in lbs or kilos. Coffee cans of grain and "flakes' of hay are not accurate ways to feed, unless you have already determined the weight of the flake (and the bales are uniform), or the weight of the coffee can of corn or other supplement. Remember a coffee can of corn will not weight the same as a can of a less dense feed.
We have since fed reduced hay rations using grass hay plus whole corn, soybean meal and ground limestone for calcium. The VA Tech "feeding Sheep" website states "When high grain diets, certain alternative feeds, or silage are fed to sheep, additional calcium is required in the diet. This can be supplied by adding feed grade limestone to the feed. A general rule is to add limestone at 1 percent of the diet."
The sheep did well on the reduced hay rations, though they did "yell" for more feed every time they saw me! I plan to continue feeding this way. There is more mental work needed, when compared with the way we used to feed-essentially all the hay that the sheep would eat (and waste!), plus about 1/2 - 1 lb. of whole corn in late gestation, but since I find it easier, and cheaper, to feed grain, I plan to continue with RHR.
For more info on general feeding, reduced hay rations and alternative feeds, see;
Two research articles on alternative feeds;
And here is an interesting "Historical" publication;
Jim and Martha McGrath
HC 72 Box 14D
Franklin, WV, 26807