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The Value Of Alternative Grains For Sheep Production

Livestock Update, December 1996

Steve Umberger, Animal and Poultry Sciences

When additional energy and protein are required, corn and soybean meal commonly form the basis of the grain portion of most sheep diets. However, when justified by supply or price, other grains may replace all or part of the corn and soybean meal in a diet. The energy values of certain small grains such as barley, oats, and wheat are 90, 80, and 100% of corn, respectively. Barley can replace up to 100% of the corn in a diet, while oats can replace 50 to 100% of the corn in a diet. The higher replacement rate for oats is used for breeding sheep, while the lower rate is used in creep feeds and finishing diets for lambs. Because the carbohydrate fraction of wheat is so highly digestible, wheat can only be used to replace up to 50% of the corn in a diet. Alternative sources of protein to replace soybean meal include cottonseed meal, peanut meal, corn gluten feed, and dry distillers grains. To determine if other feeds are a better value than corn or soybean meal, comparisons can be made based on the cost per unit of nutrient. If corn is selling for $0.06 per pound and barley is selling for $0.05 per pound, is barley a better buy even though it has 90% of the energy value of corn? To determine which is the better buy, divide $0.06 per pound by 92% TDN for corn to get a value of $0.065 per pound of TDN. Divide $0.05 per pound by 85% TDN for barley to get a value of $0.059 per pound of TDN. In this example, even though barley has a lower energy value than corn, it is still a better buy. If alfalfa hay is selling for $120 a ton and soybean meal is selling for $250 a ton, which is the better buy for crude protein? Divide $0.06 per pound by 15% crude protein for alfalfa hay to get a value of $0.40 per pound of crude protein. Divide $0.125 per pound by 44% crude protein for soybean meal to get $0.284 per pound of crude protein. In this example, even though alfalfa hay is selling for less than half the price of soybean meal, soybean meal is still a better buy for crude protein than alfalfa hay. Caution should be used when substituting alternative feeds for corn and soybean meal when they appear to be a better value. Although alternative feeds may be comparable in nutrient analysis, the animals may not perform similarly. Therefore, it is important to know if there are problems with certain alternative feeds, and to monitor the performance of the sheep flock once changes have been made. For a complete guide to feeding the sheep flock, request the Extension publication "Feeding Sheep" (410-853, revised 1996) from your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Office.

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