By Jan L. Carlson.
Nutritional management should be of primary concern to the livestock producer. A properly nourished animal is better able to withstand environmental stress and challenge by disease-causing organisms. The main categories of nutrients are energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and water.
Energy is the fuel used by animals to carry on all life functions including metabolism, activity, growth, lactation and gestation. A low energy diet may result from an inadequate amount of feed or from an unlimited amount of Poor quality feed.
Protein is essential for all functions but is especially important for growth, weight gain, and in the late stages of gestation.
Ruminants are able to synthesize vitamin C and the B vitamins. Other vitamins usually are readily available in feeds with the possible exception of vitamin A, which may be absent in dry roughage that was improperly cured. Vitamin D is not a problem unless animals are maintained in an area where they are not exposed to sunlight.
Most of the minerals required by sheep and goats can be provided by giving the animals free-choice trace mineralized salt. This salt should be in the form of loose salt since sheep and goats prefer to chew the mixture rather than lick it from a block.
Certain areas of the country are deficient in minerals such as selenium, copper, manganese, cobalt and iodine. State or county agricultural extension services will have information about areas that may be deficient. Ideally, the calcium to phosphorus ratio should be 2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus, but up to 4 to 1 is acceptable. If the ration consists mainly of legumes, a phosphorus supplement may be necessary.
Sheep and goats prefer clean, fresh water and quite often will not drink contaminated water. Animals in confinement or drylot situations should have access to water at all times. Animals on lush, green grass will require less water but should be watered at least once a day. Dairy animals require more water and if the water supply is limited, production also will be limited.
Types of Feed
Feeds are divided into two main classifications: Rough-ages and concentrates. Rough-ages consist of the entire plant and are higher in fiber than concentrates, which for the most part are cereal grains. Concentrates are high energy feeds and are not needed in a maintenance diet unless the roughage is of very Poor quality.
Most feeds may be categorized as either a grass or a legume. Examples of legumes are alfalfa, soybeans, peas,vetch and clover. Legumes are higher in protein than grasses and make excellent feeds, especially for growing or high producing animals.
Grasses can provide adequate protein and energy if they are fed at the vegetative stage. As plants become more mature, most of the energy is put into seed production, which is why the cereal grains (seeds) that are produced are high in energy. Examples of grasses are oats, barley, timothy, wheat, corn, and pasture grasses.
The poorest quality roughages are obtained when a cereal grain crop is harvested and the remaining plant material (straw) is used for feed. This type of feed must be supplemented just to meet maintenance requirements.
Nutritional requirements of sheep and goats vary greatly, depending on the function and life stage of the animal. A maintenance ration is the amount of nutrients required by an adult animal to stay alive. Additional nutritional requirements are needed for milk production, growth, weight gain, and the late stages of pregnancy.
A basic ration for maintenance of an adults sheep or goat would be 3 1/2 pounds of legume hay or 4 pounds of good quality grass hay per head per day.
During the early stages of pregnancy, sheep and goats require no more than maintenance ration. But during the last two months of gestation they require a 12 percent protein diet and 50 percent more energy than maintenance. This may be accomplished by feeding a roughage that is at least 12 percent protein and supplementing with 1 pound per day of concentrate.
An increased protein level is important in a growing animal, and the younger the animal the higher the requirement. Early-weaned kids and lambs should receive a ration totaling 14 percent protein. By the time they are 6 months of age 12 percent protein should be adequate until they reach maturity.
A lactating animal will require two times the maintenance level of energy. Energy usually is the limiting factor In a high producing dairy animal's diet, and quite often a doe will lose weight in the peak producing months of her lactation because she cannot eat enough feed to sustain that level of production. This is why the ration provided to a dairy animal should be of the highest quality.
A rule of thumb is to provide all the good quality roughage a doe will eat, and supplement with a half pound of concentrate per pound of milk produced.