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Opportunities to Control Costs for Sheep Operations

Livestock Update, October 2008

Scott P. Greiner, Ph.D., Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, VA Tech

Feed expenses for the flock represent the single largest cash cost of the sheep production enterprise.  A number of factors have given rise to dramatic increases in feed costs recently, with many expecting these costs to stay high for the foreseeable future.  Not only have the costs of purchased feedstuffs (grains and supplements) risen, but production costs of feeds produced on-farm have risen substantially as well as a result of higher input costs (fuel, fertilizer, seed). There are several management strategies which can be applied to control feed costs and make prudent use of dollars spent of feed. 

The following outline provides a list of management considerations for controlling feed costs:

Maximize the use of pasture forages vs. harvested feedstuffs

Control feed waste

Effectively utilize byproduct and substitute feeds

Feed according to production

Test forages for nutrient content

Match production and marketing system to feed resources and costs

Under most scenarios, level of production has a direct relationship with nutritional requirements.  As an example, feeding strategy of the ewe impacts her milk production and resulting lamb growth.  For production systems which rely primarily on harvested feedstuffs (winter lambing), feeding strategies which optimize production are warranted.  Conversely, it makes little economic sense to aggressively feed spring-lambing ewes which will nurse lambs while spring/summer grazing (lambs to be marketed in the fall/winter).  The return on investment for early feeding of ewes under this production system is low, as rapid early growth is not necessary or economically warranted.   Simply put, feeding strategies must be compatible with desired level of performance as well as the production system.  Producers which deliver the proper nutrition in a cost-effective manner will be more profitable within a given system.  Overfeeding is costly, and “starving for profit” is simply not achievable as production will negatively impacted.


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