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Bartels offers some shepherd economics
Ohio Farm News
By Steve Bartels

We raised registered Suffolk lambs when my kids were in 4-H, so it’s always good to talk sheep.

Last Thursday, I was at Collinsville Community Center preparing for our Heifer Development Short Course. Dan Burkholder, one of our better lamb producers, asked me a question that is on many livestock producer’s minds these days. With the price of corn at near record levels, what can I do to reduce my feed cost for my ewe flock?

I’m proud of Dan. He is another young person who has come through our 4-H program and has continued in the livestock industry. He sells club lambs and a few for harvest. His specific question was, “Can I feed more hay this winter and less grain?” Well, my answer was a typical Extension answer. I said, “Well, Dan, that depends.”

During the first 110-120 days of an ewe’s gestation, their nutritional needs are pretty minimal. A 150-pound ewe, for those first 120 days or so after breeding, only needs about two pounds of TDN and .35 pounds of protein per day. A ration that contains about 9 percent CP on an as-fed basis and 50 percent TDN is sufficient. Most hay fed at just over four pounds per head, per day, will meet those requirements.

Many lamb producers treat their ewes better than necessary. They feed grain early in gestation to ewes that are already in good condition. I suggested to Dan he cut out the grain during the first 120 days.

If corn is $3.75 per bushel, that’s 6.7 cents per pound. If you cut out 1 pound of corn per head, per day, for 120 days, and you have 80 ewes, that’s a savings of $643 while you have met the nutritional needs of the ewe. Hay fed during this period should be tested for Net Energy Maintenance (NEM), Total Digestible Nutrient (TDN), Crude Protein (CP) and minerals.

You will need to feed grain for the last five weeks before lambing. The TDN for the ewe goes up to 57-66 percent, depending on the number of lambs she is carrying. She needs three pounds of TDN per day. An ewe would need to eat 5.7 pounds of a 60 percent TDN hay to meet the energy requirements. An ewe will generally eat about 3 percent of her body weight per day.

Lambs that are born from an ewe that did not get enough energy will be weak, small and slow to nurse. Many will chill and may die. A good rule of thumb is to feed one pound of grain supplement per lamb that the ewe is carrying.

This farm news was published in the Dec. 13, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.