Should I provide supplemental feeding to sheep during the winter?
Answer: Wintertime or dry-period feeding may include supplements in addition to hay. Grain (corn, barley, oats) is used as a supplement to provide energy. Soybean or cottonseed meal is used to provide protein. Other potential feedstuffs include crop residues such as cornstalks, crops spoiled by wet weather, cull vegetables, and by-products from cereal milling, wheat milling, and food processing.
Trace-mineralized salt or other mineral supplements are also needed. It is best to feed calcium, phosphorous, and trace minerals in the grain or in a salt mixture to ensure that the animals actually eat them. Test your forages to determine their mineral content, and adjust mineral supplementation as needed. Your local Extension agent can have your forage analyzed. Mineral content of forage is quite variable across the country, and the type, stage, and level of production of the animal influences mineral requirements. Therefore, no one mineral supplement formula is right for all locations or situations. It is very important that you consistently offer mineral mix (preferably in a loose form), monitor its consumption, and ensure that all the sheep are in fact eating adequate amounts of the mineral supplements. The Maryland Small Ruminant website has additional resources on proper nutrition and feeding of sheep.
Ration-balancing ensures that animals receive the necessary amounts of nutrients (energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals). By using the National Research Council’s The Nutrient Requirements of Sheep and their chart of the nutrient make-up of various feedstuffs, a producer can determine the amounts of nutrients their sheep should receive. If laboratory feed analysis is available, it should be used instead. Advice from a local Extension agent can be helpful in balancing least-cost rations. Montana State University has a website for balancing sheep rations.
In addition, consult the ATTRA publication Sheep: Sustainable and Organic Production. It introduces concerns and practices specifically related to sustainable sheep production. Topics covered include breed selection, controlled grazing, pasture lambing, alternative health management, and innovative marketing of meat and wool products.
You’ll find still more valuable resources in the Livestock and Pasture: Sheep and Goats section of the ATTRA website, including publications, videos, and podcasts.