by Debbie Chikousky of Manitoba, Canada
Once again we have had a horrible hay-growing season. There was enough moisture early in the spring to allow us to have a first cut of alfalfa but the rains stopped. The hay never regrew so there was no second cut. Due to this we have sufficient quantity of hay but likely insufficient quality. The dry weather caused the plants to bolt to maturity so we are a bit short on high quality hay. Hay testing for us could get costly as we gather it from many small fields of extreme variation of quality and plant life so the Manitoba Agriculture and Rural Initiative representative in our area has recommended that we estimate the protein level at 11%.
We realize that there are also other important factors such as Total Digestible Nutrition and Relative Feed Value to consider, but the most influential for us has been crude protein. We have found that over the years, if we can, as cheaply as possible, bump the protein level of the grain portion of our ration to 16% for the lambs and 12-14% for the ewes, the ewes winter quite well on whatever hay we have managed to grow. The lambs also manage to gain weight and go to market. We are also very careful to feed them free choice cobalt iodized loose salt and a mineral that has been formulated for our region if we find that our hay is of poorer quality.
We did discuss buying some better quality hay, but with transportation and the cost of the hay we were quoted over 5 cents a pound for first cut alfalfa. So when we calculated what our costs were per 1100-pound bale of hay, of mixed quality, we decided that it was best to feed our hay and top up the protein with grain. Even with the increased price of fuel, our fuel costs were $2.33 for cutting, raking and baling each 1100 pound bale, and twine was .40 cents a bale. So if we allow a bit of money for parts, property taxes and spreading manure for fertilizer we are still under $5.00 a bale. Last winter we supplemented our sheep with natural source protein/mineral lick tubs and found it to be very costly so we have decided to return to barley and the cheapest high protein supplement we can find other than soy. We also have goats on our farm and they consume the same ration as the sheep, and we make cheese for our own consumption with our own milk. We don’t feed them soy because I find that the cheese doesn’t work as well when the animals are eating soy.
The fun part now is to determine which supplement available in our area when mixed with the barley will give us the protein we require. The best tool I have found for helping with the calculations is a Pearson Square. I was introduced to this by a seasoned sheep farmer many years ago when I was trying, with various mathematical equations, to figure out how much barley and how much distillers grains I needed to feed my orphan lambs to give them a 16% grain ration.
A free online download for this amazingly helpful tool is at (defunct website). [Search “Pearson Square” to find free downloads and apps. – Ed.] Another site that is full of nutritional information for sheep is www.sheepandgoat.com
In order to use the Pearson Square you must know the feed value of the components. In this example I have decided that I desire my ration to be 16% crude protein (this is the middle number) and the components that I want to use are a 10% crude protein barley and a 32% crude protein distillers grains. These are the numbers that are entered on the left side of the square. To calculate the numbers on the left you subtract the middle number from the bottom left hand corner. This will give the top right hand corner figure. Then the top left hand number is subtracted from the middle number to give the bottom right hand number. The top right hand number will be how many parts of equal size are required of barley and the bottom right hand number is the number of equal parts of distillers grains that would be needed to make a crude protein ration of 16% from these two ingredients.
Once this has been established, a price can be put on the barley and distillers grains required and a cost for the ration will be established. For example, if Barley costs 5 cents a pound and distillers grains cost 17 cents a pound, then a per pound price of this ration would be 8 cents per pound. For our farm we decided this is an acceptable cost. The ewes will only eat 1/2 – 3/4 of a pound per day, or 4 to 6 cents worth of this grain per day along with about 2 cents worth of our homegrown hay. If we had purchased the 5-cent pound hay it would cost us 25 cents a day. The Manitoba Agriculture and Rural Initiatives office estimates the daily hay consumption of an adult ewe to be 5 pounds a day, with no grain fed. Therefore the grain ration with our own hay will be saving us approximately 17 cents a day or $34.00 per ewe over a 200-day winter-feeding season.
The types of feed in this example can be changed to suit the needs of the individual farmer. There have been many farmers in our area that have experimented with feeding oat straw and corn, for example, they would just have to change the values to reach a crude protein level that will work on their farms with their available feeds. The Pearson Square can be used to calculate other parts of the ration also such as TDN, amino acids, etc. We have found that learning to use it has made decision making about feeds a lot quicker leaving us with more time for enjoying life on the farm.