Maize meal, rapeseed and maize distillers are some feed ingredients which currently represent good value for money. This was one of the many messages delivered by Tim Keady of Teagasc during his nutrition presentation at the recent lowland sheep conferences held in Athlone and Letterkenny.

Tim said the price of the majority of straight feed ingredients are back €70/t to €80/t on the corresponding period in 2023. The price of the selection of feed ingredients detailed in Table 1 were reviewed with all feeds valued relative to barley currently costing €263/t and soya bean meal at a cost of €561/t.

As reflected in the table, maize meal is currently good value for money with the feed valued from €15/t to €40/t over its current price. Rapeseed and maize distillers are also deemed to be good value for money. Tim explained that this provides opportunities, particularly when formulating diets for cattle.

However, it is a different scenario for concentrates formulated for feeding ewes in late pregnancy. Research carried out in Teagasc Athenry shows that soya bean meal is the preferred choice for late pregnancy diets.

Tim presented data which showed lamb birth weights were recorded 0.3kg higher and weaning weights 0.9kg higher where ewes were offered soya meal as the protein source compared to protein byproduct feeds.

The research showed that the response to feeding soya was equivalent to offering 75% extra byproduct concentrate.

This does not mean that feeds such as rapeseed and maize distillers do not have a role, rather than their level of inclusion needs to be managed carefully and soya remains the primary protein source.

This point is denoted when looking at the composition of the concentrate formulated for use in the ewe flocks in Mellows Campus Athenry in 2024. Soya bean meal is the primary protein source, but rapeseed is also included at 10% inclusion.

Tim Keady, Teagasc.

Top nutritional tips

There was a wealth of nutritional information and results from numerous research trials presented on the night. The takehome messages and important feeding advice is summarised below.

  • High feed-quality silage will sustain high levels of animal performance and greatly reduce concentrate requirement and feed cost in late pregnancy. Ewes offered 79DMD silage compared to 70DMD silage had a body condition score of four at lambing (1.1 BCS higher), gave birth to lambs which were 0.5kg heavier at 5.1kg average and reared lambs which were almost 2kg heavier at weaning (33.7kg versus 31.8kg). This is the equivalent of feeding 19kg concentrates per lamb and is worth €14 per ewe rearing 1.75 lambs.
  • Each 5% unit increase in silage DMD increases ewe liveweight at lambing by 6kg, lamb birth weight by 0.3kg and lamb weaning weight by 1kg.
  • Feeding precision chop silage will enhance feed intake and reduce concentrate requirements in late pregnancy. The potential benefits are detailed in Table 3. The feeding rates detailed can be reduced by 5kg for single-bearing ewes and increased by 8kg for triplet-bearing ewes.
  • Identifying silage quality via forage analysis is central to developing an adequate feeding programme. In the absence of this information, it is guess work.
  • The benefits of high-quality silage and supplementation of concentrates will not be fully utilised without good feeding management. Ewes should be grouped according to litter size and lambing date to match feed requirements with volumes offered. Fresh feed should be offered regularly removing any refused feed. Trough space of 0.5m to 0.6m should be provided/ewe and feeds should be split where they increase above 0.5kg to 0.6kg.
  • Body condition score at lambing has a big influence on lamb performance. A 0.5kg increase in BCS at lambing increases weaning weight by 1kg.
  • A huge focus is placed on comparing the cost of concentrates and this is often carried out without fully considering the quality of the feed. A €20/t increase in concentrate cost equates to just 50c per ewe, so feed quality is paramount to consider.
  • Plans should be put in place now to increase the value of next year’s forage.
  • Energy intake

  • Ewe lambs require more energy intake relative to mature ewes of similar weight to meet demands for maintenance, pregnancy and growth. In Athenry, a flat rate feeding programme of 0.25kg to 0.3kg concentrates is offered, along with top-quality silage once lambs are housed, with animals transferred on to the same quantity of concentrates as mature ewes in late pregnancy.