Confinement feeding bonus for paddocks
A group of Great Southern sheep producers have confirmed that confinement feeding is a low-cost game changer giving locked-up pasture more time to grow and lambs more chance to survive.
The logistics, challenges and opportunities of confinement feeding at scale were presented at the Sheep Innovation Day and farm tour in Kojonup last Thursday.
The event was hosted by Craig and Liz Heggaton, who own stud enterprise BreedersBEST Genetics and sheep artificial breeding centre Genstock.
More than 280 people gathered at the event supported by WA Meat Marketing Co-operative, Meat and Livestock Australia, and WA Livestock Research Council.
The Heggatons showcased their Sherwood farm mixed stud and commercial sheep and cropping enterprise, as well as their co-owned Kojonup Feeds pellet mill.
Visitors viewed composite Prolific ewes and lambs on pasture, confinement feeding pens shaded by trees, a feedlot facility and paddocks of faba beans, canola and wheat.
Confinement feeding was initially developed as a drought-feeding practice to preserve ground cover and land condition.
Dr Heggaton, who increased confinement feeding two years ago, said he was achieving 15 to 20 per cent more lamb survival.
“It is a game changer, it has lifted our profitability to way above what we were doing before, it is about keeping sheep off pastures so the ewes can lamb on the green feed,” he said.
“The whole idea with confinement feeding is it allows enough pasture to grow so you don’t have to supplement their feed, particularly when they are lambing.
“This has allowed us to increase our stocking rate by 4 to 6 DSE/ha to between 16 and 18 DSE/ha in winter.”
When summer stubble runs low, the Heggatons’ 12,000 ewes are drafted into 25 confinement pens in February and March.
They are then pregnancy scanned and grouped up into single or twin-bearing mobs of between 250 and 300.
“We also separate mobs based on early or late fetal age,” Dr Heggaton said.
“We start the ewes on a complete pellet ration of 300 grams/head/day increasing to 1.2kg to 1.5kg depending on if the mob is single or twin-bearing,” he said.
“They are fed a Kojonup Feeds finisher pellet with 16 per cent protein and 12 megajoules/kg of energy and are given ad lib barley straw.”
Dr Heggaton said they budgeted on $15 per ewe to build the confinement feeding pens, including the fences and feed troughs.
“We allowed for three sheep per metre of trough space in each pen,” he said.
“The sheep are fed every day and it only takes an hour and a half to fill the troughs with pellets.”
The confinement pens also allow for condition feed monitoring.
“When they are moved to the pasture paddocks to lamb, pre-July 1, they are in good condition and will have 1500 to 2000kg/ha of dry matter feed to keep them healthy,” he said.
“Although we have variable seasons, the aim is to not let the sheep out when there is no feed in the paddock.
“We run very fertile sheep and our twin bearing mobs lamb up to 180 per cent and they can do it without extra feed and that is how we get good lambing per cent.”
The Heggatons give the ewes a long-active drench before they are moved into the paddocks.
Their worm control also is aided by selecting for worm resistance genetics and rotational grazing.
Dr Heggaton said his continuous grass paddocks were re-sown every three years with tetraploid and diploid rye-grasses, plus aerial seeds and sub clovers.
“We are spending $350/ha to sow, lime, apply knock-down sprays and fertilise — we are about growing grass for 400kg/ha of meat production,” he said.
Agronomist Tim Trezise said a plant that had not been grazed for the first six to eight weeks of its life would develop a better root system and provide more growth.
“With deferred grazing, pasture seed can be sown later in the season and pasture paddocks can also be treated before the pregnant ewes arrive,” he said.
Nyabing Merino producer Allan Hobley said he developed a confinement feeding program when the seasons were tight, locking up 1100ha of vetch paddocks.
“People think it is labour intensive, but we confine feed for only eight weeks of the year,” he said.
“It makes a positive difference to weaning weights, ewe condition score, quality of feed, environmental factors like good cover on your paddocks.”
Frankland River producer Richard Coole said he had also had good results with confinement feeding.
“We confine feed 31,000 sheep in big mobs of up to 3000 using sheep feeders filled with grain and we also give them silage to maintain a good balanced diet,” he said.
Genstock veterinarian Michylla Seal said producers should aim for a target body condition score of 3.5 for Merino twin-bearing ewes, and 3 for singles, with twin-bearing maternal sheep at 3.2 and singles at 3.
“Ewes not fed a complete ration will require calcium supplementation,” she said.
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