The 4 Letter Swear Word When Feeding Sheep

January 19, 2024

Plenty of four letter swear words come to mind when feeding sheep, be it feeding ewes through the summer and autumn or finishing lambs in the feedlot – but it’s not what you thought. It is OATS.

Oats have been a simple, easy and safe sheep feed for many years now. Many growers have planted a paddock of oats “for sheep feed” or bought in clean oats for their feeding program. Some growers will even blend oats with lupins for a feedlot ration. If you are old enough, but not too old, you will remember the years when the value of oats was $90 -$120/tn. At those prices, one could make an argument to feed oats to sheep. But when oats move past a certain price point, let’s say $250/tn, one can make the argument that oats should be traded out and pellets, with better nutrition and performance value, should be bought in. So, when oats reach high $400’s/tn, and even $500 (as in early December 23), it’s a no-brainer right? And then combine that with lupins over $500/tn if you can acquire them.

So, lets look at why oats have been so popular for sheep feeding:

1.      It is relatively safe. Acidosis with oats is rare. The reason oats are so safe is that they are high in fibre and lack levels of starch that will help us feed or finish sheep. Sounds like a description of hay to me.

2.      The domestic demand from oat millers historically wasn’t as high as it is now. Combine that with export markets for WA’s high-quality product and we see pricing on a new plane. Rarely do we see oats under $250/tn nowadays.

3.      They were grown on most farms, so the argument was that “they don’t cost me anything or only cost me my inputs”. I still come up against this thinking. Surely anything you consume on farm, that you grow yourself, has to be costed into your financials at the opportunity cost – (what you could sell it for).

Here at Milne Feeds, we haven’t used oats in sheep rations for many years because the economics and the nutritional characteristics don’t stack up for ruminants. We recently ran a hypothetical scenario through our nutritional software program using current market prices for lupins and barley. The program didn’t start calling for oats to be included until we got the price under $250/tn. So, if we can’t make oats work in the ration, how can you? Add to that the current oats value of $450+/tn and know that EasyOne is around the same price depending on which depot you utilise. Farming requires many decisions to be made each week. “Will I use oats to feed my sheep?” is one that requires little thought – and no swearing.