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High Feed Costs Ė
Strategies to Survive Them •
Grazing Season •
Diseases: Prevention and Management
High Feed Costs Ė Strategies to Survive
Steven M. Jones, Associate Professor - Animal Science
Many factors have converged to make it more expensive to feed
livestock, including small ruminants. Regardless of the purpose of
their enterprise, most sheep and goat producers want to know how
they can reduce their feed costs. Everything we feed our animals is
more expensive than it was a few years ago, and it is likely to stay
this way for the foreseeable future. However, there are some steps
producers can take to reduce feed costs. Many of the steps are
common sense and cost little to no money to implement. Other
strategies require a financial investment and should pay for
themselves in the long run. What works for one producer may not work
for another. Some strategies may require some economies of scale.
Feed balanced rations.
The first step towards reducing feed costs is fine-tuning your
feeding program to make sure you are meeting, but not exceeding,
your animalsí nutritional requirements. Sheep and goat nutrition
requirements are based on size (weight), age and stage and level of
production. Environmental conditions also affect nutrient
requirements. Animals that have to walk further for feed as well as
animals below their critical temperature have higher nutritional
needs. It is difficult to know how much to feed a sheep or goat if
you donít know how much it weighs. Ideally, you should weigh your
animals at least once per year. Prior to breeding is usually the
best time. If you never weigh your livestock, your feeding program
will be rooted in guesswork. Very few people, if any, can accurately
estimate the weight of livestock. Consider purchasing a scale or
sharing a scale with other producers. Accurate weights will also aid
in your animal health program. One of the quickest ways to increase
anthelmintic resistance is to underdose an animal.
Divide herd into production groups.
Sheep and goats should be divided into production groups and fed
according to their nutritional requirements. If you keep pregnant
and lactating females in the same feeding group, some females will
be overfed and some will be underfed. If you keep females nursing
triplets in the same feeding group as females nursing twins or those
nursing singles, the same thing will happen. Feeding growing animals
in the same group as mature animals is also problematic. Overfeeding
or underfeeding sheep and goats is costly in many ways. Overfed
livestock are obviously more expensive to feed. They tend to
experience more reproductive problems (embryo loss, pregnancy
toxemia, dystocia, prolapses). Fat rams and bucks may be too lazy to
breed. It may cost less to underfeed an animal, but youíll probably
lose more money in the long run as a result of poorer performance
and health. If your financial resources prevent you from feeding
properly, you should reduce your animal numbers, not reduce how much
(or what) you feed to the whole flock.
You can balance rations by hand (using simple math) or by using a
personal computer. If you are a goat producer, you can use Langston
Universityís Ration Balancer and Nutrient Requirements Calculator.
Commercial ration-balancing programs may also be purchased and used
to formulate least-cost rations for sheep and goats.
Forages are usually the most variable part of any feeding program
for ruminant livestock. Forage quality varies by plant species,
stage of plant maturity and various other production factors.
Because of this, forages should be tested to determine their
nutritive content. A simple hay analysis only costs about $20. It
can easily pay for itself. If hay is not tested, you may be
overfeeding or underfeeding certain nutrients. You may be feeding
more grain than is necessary or you may not be feeding enough grain
to meet the nutritional requirements of your high-producing animals.
Because forages vary in cost and nutritive value, itís important to
feed the right forage at the right time to the right group of
All feed should be purchased and fed by weight. Sheep and goat
nutritional requirements are based on weight not volume (bale or
bucket). If you donít know what a bale of hay weighs, you donít know
how much you are feeding your livestock or how much they are eating,
and you donít how much it is costing you. You cannot compare its
cost to other feedstuffs. The same is true of grain. A scoop of corn
does not weigh the same as a scoop of pellets. Itís not necessary
that you weigh every bale or scoop of grain, but you need to know
what your bales weigh (on average) and what your scoop or bucket of
Minimize feed wastage.
Hay and grain should generally not be fed on the ground. There is
considerably more feed wastage when feeding on the ground. Feeding
on the ground can also spread diseases. All feed should be fed in
feeders. You should favor feeders that minimize wastage and keep the
feed clean and free from fecal or other foreign matter. Feeders can
be built on the farm or purchased from commercial vendors. There are
many different designs for feeders. Not all feeder designs will work
equally well for all classes of sheep and goats. Goats are
particularly adept at getting into feeders and on top of feed.
If feed is limit-fed, there needs to be enough feeder space for
all animals in the feeding group to eat at one time. It is generally
recommended that each female have 16 to 20 inches of feeder space.
Lambs and kids should have 9 to 12 inches of feeder space. These
space measurements may need to be adjusted up or down depending upon
the species, size of the animals and presence of horns or dominant
behavior. Animals that do not get their fair share of feed because
of lack of feeder space will end up costing you money because their
nutritional needs will probably not be met.
Cull unproductive animals.
When feed costs are high, culling standards should be equally
high. You canít afford to take a chance on marginally productive
animals when feed costs are high. Why feed an ewe or doe that raises
only one offspring when there are plenty of other females that will
raise twins or triplets. Donít make excuses for an ewe or doe that
fails to raise any offspring. Get rid of her. On average, a femaleís
most productive years are from 3 to 6. The most efficient females in
the flock are the ones that wean a greater proportion of their body
weight. Itís a good idea to weigh and condition score your females
at the start of breeding season and to weigh their offspring at the
time of weaning. This will enable you to determine which females in
your flock are the most efficient and which onesí offspring you
should retain for breeding. Replacements should be selected from the
most productive females in the flock. These wonít necessarily be the
ďprettiestĒ ones. Theyíll be the ones that utilize expensive feed
resources to produce babies that grow well.
You can increase productivity by breeding ewe lambs and doelings.
Well-grown ewe lambs and doelings can be bred to produce offspring
by the time they are one year old. Size is more important than age
when deciding if or when to breed lambs and kids. The recommendation
is that females achieve approximately two-thirds of their mature
weight before being bred.
Ewe lambs and doelings should be managed and fed separately from
mature females, (ideally) up until the time they wean their first
set of offspring. If ewe lambs and doelings arenít big enough and
you canít manage them separately, you should not breed them until
the second year of life.
Every extra lamb or kid that you produce will reduce your feed
costs, because it will spread out your fixed costs (overhead). Feed
costs tend to comprise 50 to 75 percent of the production costs on a
sheep and/or goat farm.
Extending the Grazing Season
John Jennings, Professor - Forages
Summer drought reduces the hay crop yield, and long, cold winters
increase the amount of hay needed. The past couple of years in
Arkansas have included both weather extremes. The typical length of
the hay feeding season in Arkansas is 135 days, starting around
mid-November and lasting until March 31. It is interesting to know
that the average hay feeding season for Wisconsin, Missouri and
Mississippi lasts 140 days, about the same as in Arkansas (Lacefield,
personal communication, 2011). But think about the location of those
states. Missouri is in the middle of the continental U.S.,
Mississippi is on the Gulf Coast and Wisconsin is in the Great Lakes
region. The climate and forage choices in Arkansas are conducive to
a much shorter hay feeding season and a much longer grazing season.
Farmers enrolled in the Arkansas 300 Days Grazing Program have
successfully extended their grazing seasons to over 300 days by
using the forage base existing on their farm, adding legumes and
making some simple adjustments in forage planning and management.
For most farms, extending the grazing season can be accomplished in
five basic steps.
- Start with an inventory of your forage base and livestock
- Determine what management practices to add to increase
seasonal grazing from your existing forage base.
- Add complementary forages to fill in seasonal gaps.
- Plan forage and grazing practices ahead for the year.
- Monitor and adjust forages and livestock as needed.
Inventory forage for type and seasonal production.
Questions regarding pasture improvement are frequently focused on
which new forage variety to plant. However, improving a pasture
system often involves more assessment and management of existing
forages rather than planting new forage species or varieties. A
forage inventory tells you which forage species you have on the farm
and when those forages are producing useful livestock feed. A forage
inventory has two parts: 1) what species are in each pasture and 2)
if the pastures provide adequate forage for the herd during spring,
summer, fall and winter.
Pasture inventories are simple to conduct and give the landowner
a chance to really look over fields. The pasture inventory form can
also be printed from the Agriculture/pasture/forages section of the
University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service website at
the inventory by walking a line across the field. Stop at every
fourth or fifth step and then record a tally mark on the sheet next
to the category corresponding to what is at the end of your right
toe, whether it is a grass, legume, weed or bare ground. Continue
walking across the field until you collect at least 50, preferably
100, such points. Record the data for each pasture on different
tally sheets. Calculate the percentage of each category represented
from the field. Inventories can also be conducted with an ATV. Hold
a length of PVC pipe or similar pointer stick to drag on the ground.
Stop after a certain number of feet or seconds and record the plant
found at the end of the pointer stick. Inventories provide useful
information on success of previous management and give direction for
future management decisions.
Determine what management practices to add to increase
seasonal grazing from your forage base.
Improving grazing management often makes the single largest
contribution to pasture improvement. Pastures that are continuously
grazed with no rotation are usually less productive than
rotationally grazed pastures. Continuous grazing leads to only 35
percent utilization of the forage produced, or in cases of pastures
too heavily stocked, it leads to overgrazed pastures that become
weak and unproductive. Well-managed rotational grazing can improve
forage utilization to as much as 65 percent and encourages growth of
legumes. Pasture regrowth rates are higher and the pasture becomes
more productive. Rotational grazing can help maintain forage
productivity longer into a drought period. Research has shown that
increasing the rotation frequency from twice per month to twice per
week increased the number of grazing days per acre by 40 percent. In
Arkansas, producers who strip-grazed stockpiled fescue nearly
doubled the number of animal-unit grazing days per acre and the
savings per animal unit, compared to producers who continuously
grazed the winter pasture.
Add complementary forages to fill in seasonal gaps.
Complementary forages add to the forage base instead of
substituting for an existing forage. Examples would be adding winter
annuals like ryegrass to a bermudagrass pasture or adding clover to
a fescue pasture. Both the ryegrass and clover are high- quality
forages that extend the grazing season for the pasture. Annual
ryegrass provides excellent spring grazing when bermudagrass is
dormant and reseeds readily in many cases. Clover added to fescue
helps improve animal performance, especially in KY-31 toxic
endophyte fescue fields. Clover added to bermuda can be grazed in
spring to allow nitrogen fixed by the clover to be recycled to boost
bermudagrass growth in summer.
Plan forage and grazing practices ahead for the year.
Advance planning of the forage production and grazing schedule
helps avoid unexpected problems caused by poor weather. For example,
in a forage system with fescue/clover mixed pastures and
bermudagrass pastures, a plan might include the following strategy:
- Start rotationally grazing fescue at greenup to get
the rotation sequence under control before rapid grass
- If high-quality clover is needed in May or June,
graze clover pastures 30 days earlier so the regrowth
will be ready when needed.
- Control winter annual weeds on bermudagrass
pastures. Fescue pastures grow at the same time in
spring as winter weeds in bermudagrass, so grazing both
at the same time may not be a good option. Selective
herbicide application on weeds in bermudagrass may help.
- Plan summer grazing sequence.
- Rotationally graze bermudagrass. This will
help keep the grass in a high-quality growing condition
and will give the opportunity to protect accumulated
growth for limit-grazing in case of drought conditions.
- Fertilize bermuda pasture in blocks on a
30-day schedule. Fertilize a few acres for June growth
then more in July if conditions warrant. Under good
summer rainfall, N fertilization may be minimal on
- Fertilize some bermudagrass pasture in August for
fall stockpiled pasture to graze in October-November to
reduce hay feeding.
- Plan fall grazing sequence.
- Fertilize some fescue pasture for stockpiled pasture
to graze from December to February. This is a very
cost-effective practice and greatly reduces hay feeding
- Strip-graze stockpiled bermudagrass pasture during
October/November. This allows time for fescue/clover to
grow for grazing in November and December.
- Annual ryegrass can be overseeded onto bermudagrass
pasture after strip-grazing if needed.
- Rotationally graze fescue/clover pastures in fall
before cold winter weather. Clover does not hold up well
under freezing conditions, so it should be grazed before
grazing the stockpiled fescue pastures.
- Plan winter grazing sequence.
- Strip-graze stockpiled fescue.
- Overseed clover on fescue pastures where needed.
- Plan spring grazing sequence.
Monitor and adjust forages and livestock as needed.
Both animals and forages should be observed for responses to changes in either part of the system. Forage growth changes as weather changes. Changes in livestock management or animal stocking rate affect forage growth and availability. By monitoring how well the forage and animal systems matched during each season and for the year, adjustments can be made to optimize the system. Good monitoring also helps with future plans for expansion.
Diseases: Prevention and Management
Steven M. Jones, Associate Professor - Animal Science
Disease can enter a producerís farm or ranch from many sources.
Introducing new animals is the usual avenue, but it is definitely
not the only way that illness finds its way into the herd.
- Bringing new animals into the herd from off site.
- Shows are a huge source of infection and illness. They are
similar to childrenís day-care centers Ė incubators for disease.
- Poor health management practices within the herd.
- Poor nutrition.
The most basic method of disease control in individual
herds/flocks is to avoid introduction of disease agents. If possible
and practical, producers should keep a closed herd/flock. Most
diseases of a contagious nature are introduced into operations when
new animals are added. Disease agents can be introduced when
breeding animals are added to an operation, when animals commingle
at a fair, show or sale or when animals contact wildlife. If a
closed herd/flock is not feasible, then use an animal quarantine
program. A useful isolation program consists of a facility that
prevents commingling of animals for at least 30 days, including
separate water supplies.
Most producers are aware that they should quarantine new animals
brought from outside the ranch property in order to protect their
goats from whatever diseases the new animals might be carrying.
However, the reverse is just as true: newly introduced goats need to
be protected from organisms present on the ranch to which their
immune systems have not been previously exposed. Recognize that
these goats are on a new property in a changed environment and are
often in a much different climate than they had been previously
adapted for living. From the moment they left their previous homes,
these new goatsí immune systems are under constant assault.
Vaccinating the herd/flock can provide some insurance against
specific common diseases. However, each vaccination program must be
tailored to an individual operation. It is also important that
producers understand what they are vaccinating for and why it is
important. This is an instance where a veterinarianís assistance can
be critical. Just because there is a vaccine available for a
specific disease does not mean producers should use it. There should
be economic or other justification to vaccinate for specific
diseases. Producers should work through the risk factors and other
control programs with a veterinarian and decide whether or not it
makes sense to vaccinate. The clostridial vaccines are the only ones
that can be recommended on a blanket basis for almost all sheep and
goats. All other vaccination programs need to be developed specific
to a herd/flock.
The most basic method of disease control in individual herds/flocks is to avoid
introduction of disease agents.
Sheep and goats should be vaccinated for Clostridium
perfringens Types C and D and tetanus (CD&T) at appropriate
times. Combination vaccines (7- and 8-way) are also available
against other clostridial diseases, such as blackleg and malignant
edema. These vaccines are inexpensive, and when used properly, are
very effective in preventing losses. Clostridial diseases are
endemic to all sheep and goat operations. They are caused by
specific bacteria that commonly live in the gut and manure of sheep
and goats and, under specific conditions, can affect both sheep and
When handling vaccinations, it is important to follow label
directions, as vaccines must be stored, handled and administered
properly. Only healthy livestock should be vaccinated.
Nutrition is vital for raising healthy livestock and for proper
reproductive management. Flushing or feeding females so they gain
weight prior to breeding will help them conceive. Forages should be
used as much as possible when feeding sheep and goats, but producers
may need to supplement with protein or energy, depending on
nutritional demands. Important times to supplement are during late
gestation, during lactation, during growth of replacement breeding
stock and prior to breeding.
Minerals and salt should also be provided year-round in a block,
mixed in feed or loose. Minerals used should be designed and
formulated for the species of animal being fed. Goats should be fed
minerals formulated for goats, and sheep should be fed minerals
formulated for sheep. Remember to pay particular attention to copper
content of feeds and minerals used for sheep, as they are very
susceptible to copper toxicity. Proper mineral nutrition can enhance
the immune system of animals. Well-fed livestock are more resistant
to diseases and parasites, so balanced rations appropriate for
production stage should be fed in order to maintain body condition
and control losses due to parasitism and infectious diseases. Any
changes in feeding should be made gradually.
A sound management program to keep animals healthy is basic to
production of both sheep and goats. Producers must observe animals
closely to keep individual animals and the whole herd or flock
healthy and productive. If the health status of a herd is
compromised, that operation will not be as efficient as possible.
Steven M. Jones, Associate Professor
The information given herein is for educational purposes only.
Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the
understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement
by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is implied.
Printed by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension
Service Printing Services.
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