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Truth about grain: Feeding grain to small ruminants

the truth

Some producers feed a  lot  of grain to their livestock, while others do not feed any grain   at   all.   Obviously,   forage i.e. pasture, range, browse and hay is the most natural diet for goats, sheep and steer ruminant animals. Ruminants are less likely to experience digestive problems if they are consuming high forage diets.

The purpose of feeding grain, commercial feeds, or other supplements to livestock is to provide nutrients that the forage part of the diet is not providing. For   example, forage diets often cannot meet the nutritional needs of high producing animals, such as lactating   females, especially those nursing triplets; and lambs and kids with the genetic potential for rapid growth. For this     reason, supplements are often provided to enable livestock to reach their genetic potential for milk production and growth.

Supplements are usually fed to in- crease milk production and rate of gain. If the increased production increases profitability supplementation   makes a lot sense. Supplementation of meat goats may not prove to be as economical as supplementation of pother ruminant livestock. Supplementation especially with protein has been shown to increase a sheep immune response to parasites (worms).

Times/ situations to consider feeding grain to goats & sheep

There are many different ways to meet the nutritional requirements of goats and sheep. Many producers will be able to meet most if not all of the animals’ nutrients requirements with high quality pasture or forage. For other producers, the timely use of supplements can substantially increase productivity and profits, without compromising the health or welfare of the livestock.

Flushing: is the practice of providing energy and/ or protein to breeding ewes and does prior to the breeding seasons and for the forest several weeks of the breeding season. The increased weight gain that the ewes and does experience may translate into lighter fertility and ovulation rates, through many factors will determine the female’s response to flushing. It can also be accomplished by moving female to a lush pasture prior to breeding.

Late Gestation

Nutrient requirements increase greatly during late gestation and are affected by expected lambing/ kidding rate. Inadequate nutrition during late gestation may result in pregnancy toxemia, low birth weights, weak lambs/kids, and poor milk production. It is common to feed grains to ewes and does during late pregnancy, especially if a light lambing/ kidding rate is expected. Ultra sound scanning can be used to determine   fetal numbers, so that ewes/ does can be separated into appropriate groups for feeding.

If a high quality forage is being fed during late gestation, whole shell corn or barley is usually that’s needed to meet the ewe/does nutritional needs. However, if grass hay is being fed during late gestation, the grain portion of the ration should also include a good source of protein and calcium. It is best to feed a mixed grass. Legume hay during late gestation and to some the best quality hay for lactating when protein and calcium needs are the highest.

Lactation

Lactation places the greatest nutritional demand on ewes and does, especially yearling mothers. Supplementing lactating females on pasture will usually improve lamb and kid gains and improve body condition of females at meaning. It is very difficult for a ewe or doe that raise a good set of triplets on pasture without some sort of grain supplementation. Giving young mothers and triplets rearing ewes/ does access to more pasture is another way to increasing their nutritional intake.

Creep Feeding: this is when supplemental nutrition is provided to nursing lambs and kids

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