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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Sheep Update:
Feeding Strategies for the Sheep Flock in Drought Conditions

Livestock Update, July 1999

Scott Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Sheep, Virginia Tech

A lack of precipitation throughout Virginia has resulted in poor pasture as well as decreased hay yields. Sheep producers are challenged with providing the ewe flock adequate nutrition heading into the breeding season, yet minimizing supplemental feed costs during this maintenance portion of the production cycle. The following management considerations may be useful for flocks with low pasture reserves:

  1. Wean lambs. The ewe nursing lambs has energy and protein requirements 200-300% that of dry ewes. Weaning will decrease these nutritional demands on the ewe, and she will be more likely to maintain body condition which will be important for re-breeding in the fall. Lambs can be removed from pasture, and placed on feed in a drylot facility. Removing the lambs from pasture also serves to decrease the grazing pressure on pastures, and allows for existing forages to be used for maintenance of the ewe flock. There are several protein supplements that are formulated to be mixed with whole shelled corn for growing/finishing lambs. These diets can be provided relatively inexpensively, and do not require supplemental hay when whole shelled corn is fed.

  2. If lambs are weaned and pastures become short enough that supplemental feed is necessary, consider feeding corn or barley to ewes. Feeding .5 to 1.0 lb. per head per day will help "stretch" pastures and decrease the ewe's dependence on limited pasture forages as the sole nutrient source. Corn or barley can be fed relatively cheaply, with the hopes that moisture and adequate forage will return.

  3. In some situations, pastures may become so depleted such that the ewe flock must be provided their entire diet through supplemental feed. In these situations, remove the flock from pastures to allow forages to recover once moisture is received. Since the ewe's nutritional requirements are low (assuming ewes are dry), utilizing poor to average quality hays is an option. A 175 pound ewe would require 3.5 pounds of hay (50% TDN, 9% crude protein) to meet her maintenance requirements for energy and protein. Limit feed hay to prevent consumption above requirements, and to minimize wastage. If hay supplies are short, supplementing with grain will help limit the amount of hay needed. Supplementing grain will be most economical if hay needs to be purchased. However, ewes need to consume 1% of their body weight as roughage to maintain rumen function. For the 175 pound ewe, a minimum of 1.75 pounds of hay needs to be fed. To meet maintenance requirements, an additional 1 pound of corn per day would need to be fed.

  4. Be sure to follow an aggressive deworming program, even during dry conditions. Excessive worm loads will cause additional stress on the flock. In most situations, the flock needs to be dewormed every 21 days.

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