Feeding and supplementing sheep during a drought

Major droughts in Queensland generally develop following spring or summer when there has been very little rainfall. It is important to have a feeding plan in place to ensure the nutritional requirements of sheep are being maintained during a dry season.

Below are some feeding strategies to help keep your sheep as healthy as possible during a drought.

Supplementary feeding

It is better to start supplementary feeding early, before sheep have any nutritional deficiencies or illness, as it is easier to feed to hold condition than gain condition. It also gives the sheep time to become used to their new rations and being hand-fed.

As the drought progresses, the portion of supplementary feed will need to be increased to keep up with the pasture's depleting resources.

Find out more about supplementary feeding for sheep.

Feeding mulga to sheep in south west Queensland

Mulga feeding can be an important part of an effective drought management strategy. Below are some guidelines for using mulga during a drought.

  • Start feeding mulga at the farthest end of the paddock from the water point, and feed back toward the water as the drought progresses and stock lose condition.
  • Harvest mulga 2-3 days ahead of your livestock so they can eat leaves with reduced tannin levels.
  • Clear mulga at a right angle to the slope. This obstructs water flow down the slope and provides sites for grass seedling to grow.

Feedlotting sheep in a drought

There are regulations for intensive animal feedlotting, and you may need a permit if you are going to feedlot your sheep.

How to feedlot sheep

Fence off a well-drained yard with good shade and access to water. The size of the yard will depend on how many sheep you will be enclosing. Ensure sheep are regularly inspected for parasites or sickness.

When the drought breaks, continue feeding the sheep in the yard for 2 weeks. They should then be fed roughage in the morning before being let out of the yards to feed.

If there is no rain, you are faced with a variety of decisions. The sheep may be shorn and sold or sold in wool. They will be in good condition so you may be able to get a good price for them. Otherwise they can be put on grass with minimal supplementation (if the grass quality and quantity are adequate), or kept in the feedlot.

Agistment of sheep in dry season

Finding suitable agistment during a dry season can have many benefits. It reduces the dependency on the home pasture, the need to sell or supplementary feed sheep, and can give you more time to focus on looking after the pasture and any sheep that remain on the property.

When selecting a suitable location and host, consider the:

  • quality of agistment (inspect all aspects of the site, including paddock conditions, stock handling facilities, presence of parasites, diseases and weeds, and the quality of the pasture)
  • nature of supervision (agree beforehand what level of supervision and observation will be provided by the owner/manager)
  • costs and method of payment
  • duration of agreement and stock numbers involved
  • distance from home property.

Also consider...