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Sheep Feed / Grazing Management

Sheep Feed / Fodder Management:

Sheep grazing
Sheep grazing

Sheep are pretty easy-care critters for a farm animal. They are basically a grazing animal, and pasture or hay should make up the bulk of their diet. That doesn’t mean they can survive on burned-out brown lawn grass! We’ve found that sheep don’t care very much for bluegrass or fescue, which are typical lawn grasses. They seem to prefer coarser, pasture-type grasses such as canarygrass or timothy. And they do eat some weeds.

Sheep will eat grain, but it’s not essential if they have access to real good quality pasture and/or hay. A young, lactating, or elderly animal will especially benefit from a grain supplement. You can use a basic mixed corn/soy/oats, or you can buy specially formulated sheep/goat chow at your local feed mill. If at all possible, try to avoid a steady diet of horse formula as it usually contains more copper than is healthy for sheep. Sheep are ruminants, and feeds formulated for goats or cattle are more appropriate than those formulated for horses. DON’T OVERDO THE GRAIN! You CAN kill a lamb by overfeeding grain.

Purpose : As pasture is a valuable fodder for sheep and the cheapest source of nutrients necessary for maintenance and production, proper grazing management and care of pastures is essential for ensuring higher yields.

Characteristics of sheep feeding under range conditions:

1.    Sheep have a small muzzle and split upper-lip which enables them to nibble tiny blades of vegetation which cannot be eaten by larger animals.

2.    Sheep prefer small, tender grass and chew food more thoroughly than cattle.

3.    The capacity of the sheep stomach is 15-16 litres and excess feeding can cause indigestion.

4.    In general, sheep do not relish ripe grass.

5.    Sheep on pastures may consume 10-15 % more dry matter compared to stall feeding.

6.    Daily grazing for 10-12 hours should be permitted to meet the dry matter requirements.

7.    Sheep usually relish leguminous fodder such as lucerne, cowpea, berseem etc.

8.    Sheep should preferably be grazed in different small flocks.

9.    Lambs should be grazed separately from adults to prevent parasitic infestation.

10.  Rotation of pastures should be should be adopted to prevent under- or over-grazing.

11.  Growing lambs should be allowed to graze first, followed by pregnant and lactating ewes, and dry stock at the last. (If cattle, sheep and goats are to graze on the same pasture, it will be desirable to allow goats first, followed by cattle and sheep, in that order).

12.  Avoid grazing until the dew has dried off.

13.  During grazing, sheep should have free access to clean water.

14.  Sheep kept entirely on roughage may suffer from trace mineral deficiency and should be supplemented with mineral mixture containing salt, copper sulphate & cobalt chloride.

15.  Even a good pasture does not meet the dietary requirements of advanced pregnant and lactating ewes, and hence additional concentrate feed of 250-300 gm/day should be given.

Pasture improvement and management:-

1.    Pasture lands in India are poor and meager and need to be improved by protecting them from biotic factors, conserving good natural grasses, choosing the best fodder trees and shrubs, removing non-edible grasses, weeds and shrubs, and re-seeding with nutritious and perennial grasses and legumes.

2.    Natural legumes like Rhynochosia minima, Indigofera endecaphylla and Tribulus terrestris are very useful and should be preserved.

3.    Grazing lands should be re-seeded with nutritious perennial grasses like Cenchrus ciliaris, Cenchrus setigerus, Lasirus sindicus and Dichanthium annulatum in arid and semi-arid plains; Sehima nervosum in sub-humid plains; and fescue, rye grass and kikyu grass in the temperate and sub-temperate regions.

4.    Perennial legumes like Dolichos lablab, Clitoria ternatea, Macroptelium atropurpureum, Atylosia scarabacoides and Stylosanthus species should be incorporated in the regenerated or reseeded pastures.

5.    Combined production of grass and legumes can increase forage production by 20-30 per cent as compared to that of grass alone. The legumes, besides being rich in protein content, are more palatable and digestible, enrich the soil by nitrogen fixation, and help in checking soil erosion.

6.    During the first year of pasture establishment, grazing should not be allowed; the fodder must be harvested, conserved as hay, and fed during the lean period.

7.    Rotational grazing, i.e. dividing the pasture into four equal compartments and allowing grazing sequentially, helps the grasses to regenerate, checks soil erosion caused by over-grazing and allows agricultural operations to be carried out.

8.    Pastures should be top dressed with sufficient quantities of farmyard and inorganic fertilizers at regular intervals.

9.    Pest control by means of spraying and dusting with pesticides should be done as and when required. Sheep should not be allowed to graze for 2-3 weeks after spraying.

10.  Timely hoeing and weeding operations will not only improve the forage yield but will also help in checking the growth of undesired bushes and weeds, and prevent worm infestations.

11.  Protection of pasture, removal of undesirable bushes and weeds, soil and water conservation, application of fertilizers, proper stocking rate and grazing system (rotational or deferred rotational) are essential components of good pasture management.

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