A Note From Our Nutrition Department
Time to Rethink your Lamb Feeding Strategy – How to Deal with High Feed Prices
Dale Darroch - Jones Feed Mills, Ruminant Sales Consultant
The high feed costs we are dealing with could be the norm for now and possibly the future. Feed prices are driven by several factors that we, in the livestock sector, really have no control over. Like wild fuel prices, high fertilizer costs and most of today’s farm inputs, your feed is elevated in part, by corn and protein costs setting all-time record highs. Distillers pricing is directly related to gasoline/ethanol demand. Soymeal is at the mercy of tight supplies caused by production issues at the crushers and transportation challenges across North America and the world. All of these situations paint a bleak picture for making money feeding livestock.
There is however, an exercise all producers should be doing to control their costs and the true impact of these increased expenses. Force yourself to sit down with your feed rep and make sure you know the performance of your critters. Once you have done this, crunch the numbers and make it work.
Lamb markets will continue to be buoyant – from seasonal ethnic highs to swinging markets of periods of oversupply that drop prices. We must focus on producing lambs as efficiently feed wise as possible. Plan your rate of gain for the markets you want to hit. You must do this with your lambing plan anyway and if not, should be. Maximize flock health to make sure nothing is robbing nutrients from your flock. Watch feed wastage – forages and concentrates are all too expensive to be on the floor and not in the sheep.
Over the years we have observed gains in lambs from 3 lbs. per week to 9 lbs. per week. A rule of thumb is somewhere around 5-6 lbs. per week. When doing feed formulations, the cheapest feed is not always the best. Gain in lambs is pushed by starch, such as corn and/or wheat. If these commodities are high in price, we often see cheaper ingredients being substituted and where your lambs will consume these feeds but don’t grow. Thus, your feed efficiency drops. Some on-farm data I have gathered over the years gets easier thanks to the onset of super technology of the weights every week and the gains being calculated. We have observed gains from 4 lbs per week to 9 lbs per week – the higher gain was with the more expensive feed - generally more starch and the feed cost per lb. of gain varied from the cheaper feed.
Flock health is something to get heavily involved in with your vet. Be sure coccidiosis and worms are all totally under control. Vaccination is a must to avoid lamb losses due to enterotoxaemia. This is often overlooked and is very important on heavy fed lambs. Make sure your feed contains the proper balance of ammonium chloride for urinary calculi prevention and look at all new feed concepts to maintain gains during stressful times of the feed cycle. Making sure your ewes and lambs are being fed the proper mineral and having your feeds tested are even more important during high feed prices. These have a direct implication on the overall health and keep the immune system of your flock tuned right up.
Overall, these are normal good management concepts but when feed is cheaper, the need to look inward at your operation becomes not nearly important. Low feed prices and high lamb prices make everyone happy and the business flourishes. Your business can still prosper; however it is time to look at the operation based on the new world of high feed costs. Whether your flock is 30 or 300, it is all relative; everyone wants to be successful and profitable and enjoy their flock. Yes, there are breed differences to consider, your lamb birth timing as well as the number of lambs and of course, some good luck, but these can be taken into consideration quote easily when designing the proper feed program for your flock. In summary, it is important to consider the makeup of your ration and the performance objectives you expect and make sure to keep your feed consultant in the loop and always assess your results. Make necessary changes on the go. Don’t wait until the lambs don’t grow or end up hanging around too long. Be proactive and interactive with your feed rep and push for results. The tools are there, and it is their job to get them as your consultant to have them working for you and your flock.