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Feeding Sheep, Swine and Dairy Cattle


Sheep will not eat as wide a variety of roughage or as poor a quality of roughage as cattle. However, on pasture, sheep will consume different feeds readily and, if hungry, may eat poisonous plants as well.

An ewe needs at least one to 1.5 pounds of roughage a day to keep her digestive system functioning normally. Increase the roughage level to 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) if feeding heavy barley or feed wheat during early pregnancy, and to 2.2 pounds (1.0 kg) during late pregnancy. Conception rates are better, and ewes have more lambs, if they are gaining weight during the breeding season. So, for flushing on low quality roughages, give each ewe one pound (0.5 kg) of good, whole grain daily.

As well as roughage, ewes need vitamins and minerals and a good, clean supply of water.

Breeding ewes may need 10,000 to 15,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin A and 1,000 to 1,500 IU of vitamin D per head per day. Pregnant ewes need about 5,000 IU of vitamin A and 500 IU of vitamin D each, daily. Allow five to 10 IU of vitamin E for each pound (0.5 kg) of feed for sheep.

The mineral mixture for sheep should supply salt, calcium, phosphorus, iodine and cobalt. Sheep are sensitive to excess copper, so choose a supplement with little, if any, copper if you are in an area where the soil has enough copper.

Always make sure sheep have adequate water. When they don't have water, they will reduce their feed intake.


Since swine rations rely on grain, producers must work out the most economical ration for their animals when grain supplies are limited.

Remember, if a low energy ration is used, hogs will gain weight more slowly and be home longer. Watch closely how much less supplement is used so grain is not wasted by feeding longer than is necessary. While relying on wheat, oats and barley for rations, pelleted screenings can be used in some rations.

Wheat can be used as the major grain in hog rations. If used alone, as finely ground, it does "paste-up" in the mouth. Also, because it is high in energy, limit the amount of wheat fed or the pigs become overfat. It is probably better to mix wheat with another grain such as oats or barley. Oats are much lower in energy than wheat and need to be supplemented with a feed higher in energy. A 50:50 mixture of wheat and oats is equivalent in feed value to barley.

Pelleted screenings can be used up to 25 per cent of rations for growing pigs. Avoid them in sow rations because they may contain large amounts of unprocessed canola and wild mustard seeds which may cause reproductive problems.

Dairy Cattle

In the long run, it is economical to maintain the present size of the cow herd and feed for high production.

Dairy cows need at least 800 pounds (360 kg) of hay or its equivalent each month. This amounts to the cow eating about two per cent of her body weight each day as hay. Milking cows need at least 1.5 per cent of their body weight as hay daily or they will have digestive upsets and drop milk fat percentage. Also, cows need 350 pounds (158 kg) of cereal grain for each 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of milk they produce.

When good quality hay is in short supply, slough hay, cereal hay and in extreme situations, cereal straw, may be used as a substitute.

Slough hay may be used as the only forage for dairy cattle. When it is the only forage they receive, the cattle will need about an 18 per cent protein dairy concentrate. A less costly ration based on slough hay consists of six to 12 pounds (2.7 to 5.5 kg) of dehydrated alfalfa pellets, sun cured alfalfa pellets or alfalfa cubes and enough slough hay to add up to 25 pounds (11.4 kg) of forage a day.

Cereal hay can replace good quality hay entirely. Feed each cow 25 pounds (11.4 kg) of cereal hay daily.

When cereal straw has to be used to extend hay supplies, feed only five to 10 pounds (2.2 to 4.5 kg) a day to milking cows. Use hay or a mix­ture of hay and dehydrated alfalfa to make up the balance of the forage needed.

You can feed replacement heifers and dry cows lower quality forages such as slough hay, grass hay and weedy hay. You will also have to feed them five to 10 pounds (2.2 to 4.5 kg) of grain and supplement.

To be sure you are feeding your dairy herd balanced rations, have samples of the feed analyzed for energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. Seek advice on how to combine the feeds so they provide the proportions of nutrients the animals need.

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