The number of sheep and goats, especially sheep, has grown in recent years in both Wayne and Holmes counties. Many of these flocks and herds are pasture-based enterprises and the sheep and goats have limited access to an indoor barn or shed. Both sheep and goats are capable of adjusting to winter temperatures by maintaining a wool fleece or growing a thick, insulating hair coat in the case of goats and hair sheep. In fact, these animals most often prefer to be outside on a winter day, even if they have access to a barn or shed. The caveat to this statement is that the ration must meet the nutritional requirements balanced to the production stage. The energy content of the ration must increase when winter weather results in a temperature condition below the animal’s lower critical temperature. In addition, animals should have access to a shelter to protect from winter winds and resulting wind chill and hair coat animals should have access to protection from rain/sleet, or wet snow events.
Sheep and goats, like all livestock, have a temperature range in which the animal is most comfortable, and provides optimum conditions for body maintenance, and health. The lower boundary of that temperature range is termed the lower critical temperature (LCT). That LCT is dependent upon the animals insulating hair coat and weather conditions. When weather conditions result in temperatures below the LCT, the animal’s metabolism must increase in order for it to keep warm and that takes additional energy. The lower critical temperature for goats is generally considered 32 degrees F, and for sheep, 50 degrees F when freshly shorn or 28 degrees F with 2.5 inches of fleece. Remember that once a hair coat has become wet it loses insulation ability and the animal’s LCT is around 58 degrees F. The advantage of wool breed sheep is that wool sheds water and retains insulating ability. The rule of thumb is energy intake must increase by 1 percent for each degree of cold below the LCT.
Apart from temperature/weather conditions, feeding sheep and goats in the winter depends upon meeting the nutrient needs associated with the animal’s weight and production stage, typically defined as the gestation or lactation stage of the ewe or doe. Nutrient requirements are highest during late gestation and early lactation. The following recommendations come from an article written by Dr. Chelsey Ahrens with Arkansas Extension and posted on the OSU Extension sheep team blog site (https://u.osu.edu/sheep/) January 1, 2019:
“Some things to keep in mind are sheep and goats should consume 2-4% of their body weight on a dry matter (DM) basis to meet their nutritional requirements. Several things should be taken into consideration when figuring the nutritional requirements of females: age, stage of production, body condition score (BCS), and number of offspring. To understand how much roughage and grain should feed, it is important to know the nutritional composition of the roughage.
Late Gestation (Last 6 weeks)
This is a critical time for females as 70% of the fetal growth occurs during this phase of production. Proper nutrition is also important during this time to help prevent pregnancy toxemia (ketosis) and milk fever (low blood calcium). Other factors affected by nutrition include offspring birth weights, offspring mortality rates, lower milk yields, and dystocia (birthing difficulties). Females should have a BCS of 3-3.5 on a 5-point scale. It is best to separate the mature and young females as they are competing for feeder space and the young females are still growing.
In general, feed 4-5 lbs. of hay/female/day plus…
- 0.5-1 lb. of grain/female/day
- Free choice minerals
- Fresh, clean water
Early Lactation (First 6-8 weeks)
The highest nutritional requirements occur during this stage of production for females, especially if they are nursing multiple offspring. If possible, separate females according to the number of offspring they have (singles vs. twins vs. triplets) and feed them accordingly. Again, ideally separate the mature and young females.
In general, feed 4-6 lbs. of hay/female/day plus…
- 1 lb. of grain/offspring being nursed
- Free choice minerals
- Fresh, clean water
A loose, free choice vitamin/mineral premix is preferred to blocks. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be 2:1 and vitamins A, D, and E should be available. If soil is selenium deficient, seek out a premix fortified with selenium to prevent white muscle disease in offspring. During late gestation, ensure females are obtaining the proper amounts of calcium.
A good veterinarian relationship is important during these production stages. Your veterinarian can help ensure your flock or herd is achieving optimal nutrition, and aid in helping to prevent abortions and other diseases by providing recommendations for coccidiostats and antibiotics that could be mixed with supplemental feed.”
Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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