Confinement Feeding - A Profit Opportunity for Sheep Producers

September 20, 2021

In Western Australia’s sheep community, being able to confine-feed our ewes through the late summer and autumn period is certainly gaining a lot of interest and traction – and rightfully so. There are many ways to accomplish keeping the ewes out of our paddocks at the break of the season; from trail feeding in a sacrificial paddock, right through to a purpose-built feedlot type area. Time of lambing will influence the system. Whatever the system, here are some points to consider:

·      We are feeding the ewes through this period anyway, so why not consolidate them into an area that is close by and easy to access.  This will reduce feeding time and, more importantly, save 10%-15% of the ration’s energy (ME)through the ewe being confined. So, confinement feeding saves time (money) and ration cost (money).

·      Set up cost is relatively low.  Even the more sophisticated confinement areas can be constructed for around $15 per ewe. If we amortise that cost over 20 years, it is under $1 per ewe per annum. That is not a big outlay to get a return on that capital – right?

·      We can 100% manage the ewes' body condition score (BSC) and health through feeding a complete ration. There is a direct correlation between ewe BSC at lambing and lamb survival, therefore, being able to closely monitor ewe condition prior to lambing can improve lamb survival rates.

·      If we have scanned for multiples, we can dial up the feed to the multiple mobs and dial down to the single mobs, as obviously their feed requirements are different. This allows us to get better bang for our feed buck. If we go a step further and age the foetus at scanning, we can have early lambers that exit the confinement 2 weeks in front of the main mob. This buys some time in a late breaking season.

·      But here is the clincher – keeping the ewes out of our pastures, at the break, will massively increase the FOO available when we do populate them. The plants root structure is increased because the plant is not consistently being pruned at the 1-2 leaf stage, so it is much more established, and therefore, durable. Plant leaves grow leaves! – so we need to let them do their thing in the early stages.

·      Consider the site – this is essential to the success of the project. It needs to be free draining as sheep are in there at the break of season, when rain can be heavy. Shade must be available as autumn can still be hot. As with any intensive animal area, a very good water supply with good quality water is essential. Manage the mob size to match the site and be prepared to address shy feeders.

Milne Feeds Ruminant Specialist, Brett Blanchett, comments that most of the growers he has spoken to who have adopted this approach, have tweaked their lambing dates to take full advantage of confinement feeding. They consistently report they now run more ewes on the same area, which in turn means they wean more lambs per hectare. He says if we combine lifting ewe numbers with the ability to directly manage lamb survival through ewe nutrition, we are in a plus-plus scenario. With ewe and lamb values off the charts at the moment, and looking to be so for a few years at least, we need to maximise our sheep returns to get the best available profitability through this period.