Source of highly productive sheep
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Forage Management

Our flock is managed by intensive grazing techniques. We have approx 22 acres of grassland confined by newly constructed high tensile woven wire which serves as a perimeter for our most intensely managed grazing area. This area is our most intensively mangaged area of our 85 acres of grassland. We use electronet fencing (Electronet II from Premier1Supplies, Washington, IA) to subdivide this area as well as to confine other grazing areas on our farm or other nearby properties which we also graze.

During periods of rapid grass growth, we rotate our pasture as often as every 2 days but during dry periods we may extend the rotation to 7 days. When the grass is no longer growing (mid Oct. to mid April), we try to fence in enough stockpiled pasture to supply a given group of sheep for 14 days to minimize the labor of moving fences in winter. Using this system, we are able to graze at least a portion of our flock for 10-11 months of the year. The use of rotational grazing on our grassland for as long as possible over the year has greatly improved our production efficiency and has also dramatically improved our forage quality.

All sheep on more remote pasture are provided water by portable water wagons which carry 600 gallons. This system has provided an effective and economical means of watering sheep on any location of our or neighboring land.

We machine harvest all grassland that cannot be grazed before the forage becomes overly mature. In practice this has meant that we harvest approx. 80% of our grassland in mid-late May and then come back and take an additional cutting of approx. 70% of our grassland in late June. We then graze all grassland after that to provide enough forage for grazing for mid-summer through late winter.

We find that we need to harvest all first cutting forage in May as baleage due to the wet weather we experience at that time of year. We wilt all forage to 40-60% dry matter and bale with our baler (Gehl 1475) set at the highest bale density setting to achieve a very dense, hard core bale. We then wrap within 6 hours with 4 layers of stretch wrap using an individual bale wrapper (McHale 991C). If possible, we harvest our second cutting hay as dry hay but have often had to harvest at least half of our second cutting hay as baleage as well due to weather constraints and to make sure that we do not preserve overly mature forage.

In combination, our grazing and machine harvest techniques provide us with what we believe to be the most efficient means of utilizing high quality forage in our climate. We believe the efficient harvest of high quality forage is a key to successful management of sheep on accelerated lambing systems.

Ewe and Lamb Nutrition

In order to optimize production and efficient use of available forage, we match production requirements with appropriate forage quality. For example, we manage our grasslands to provide the best possible forage stands for ewes during late pregnancy and lactation while placing our ewes in early to mid pregnancy on lower quality (i.e. more mature) pasture. The same rationale holds for preserved forage with the best baleage reserved for animals with highest production requirements (late pregnancy, lactation, post weaning growth phase).

Ewes fed indoors receive a supplementary grain mix during approx. the last 30 days of pregnancy and throughout lactation. The amount of grain mix fed depends on forage quality, ewe condition, and number of lambs that are being raised. For example, ewes nursing a single lamb on excellent baleage may receive only a half pound of grain whereas ewes raising triplets or quads may receive 3 lbs of grain. The grain mix is fairly simple consisting of ground corn, soyhulls, and soybean meal and tests out at approx. 16% crude protein.

Lambs reared indoors are allowed access to the same grain mixture used to supplement the ewes in a creep feeding area that is fed in large, homemade self feeders. Lambs begin consuming this mix around 2 weeks of age and we achieve pre weaning growth rates averaging 0.81 lbs over all birth types between 40-60 days of age on this management system. We find that by 60 days of age on this system, most of the growth deficit observed early in life in triplet lambs for example is no longer evident so that it is hard to tell the triplet versus single lambs apart (see performance data). This compensatory growth is important for our major market which requires a well-conditioned milk fed lamb in the 35-60 lb range.

Our pasture raised lambs born in late May and early June are typically weaning at 70-90 days of age, dewormed at weaning and again 14 days later and then put on clean, non-grazed hay land following the second cutting of forage. We supplement these lambs with 1-2 lbs of grain per day until they are marketed at 70-90 lbs. Many of these lambs are sired by a large, mature size Suffolk ram which provides an excellent growthy yet lean product for the Halal market. Some of these lambs are in the correct weight range at or just shortly after weaning while other, more slowly growing lambs require grain feeding for a few weeks to reach the target market weight.