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Feeding grain to sheep

When there is little paddock feed available it may be necessary to introduce sheep to full hand feeding on grain rations.

The fodder chosen should be well priced, readily available, and easy to store and handle. Some examples include wheat, barley, sorghum, corn and oats.

It is generally more economical to decrease stock numbers before intensive feeding.

The sheep that remain on the property should be confined to a smaller paddock, if possible, to minimise further damage being done to the land.

Grain requirements for sheep during drought

The weekly grain requirements for full hand feeding of sheep to maintain them during drought are shown in the table below.

Class Wheat, barley, sorghum, corn (kg/week) Oats (kg/week)
Weaners 1.8 2.2
Adult (dry) 2.4 3.0
Within 6weeks of lambing 3.0 3.8
Lactating 4.2 5.1

How to feed grain to sheep

There is no advantage in crushing the grain for sheep. Corn can be fed out on the ground but all other grains should be fed in troughs. Allow 1m of trough space for every 6 sheep.

If you are full hand feeding, feed in small areas where water and shade are available.

Conditioning sheep to eating grain

When sheep are not eating any dry paddock feed, they should be 'conditioned' to grain-feeding to avoid digestive upsets. Start by feeding a small amount of grain mixed with chaff, hay or other roughage for between 4 and 7 days and increase the amount of grain gradually over similar periods until sheep are receiving a full grain ration.

The frequency of feeds should also be lessened gradually. During the first and second periods sheep should be fed daily, then intermittent feeding should be introduced. By the fifth or sixth period, the feed should be put out once every 3-4 days.

Conditioning adult, dry and non-pregnant sheep

Examples of con­ditioning adult, dry, non-pregnant sheep is shown in the table below.

Periods (each 4-7 days) Mixture % grain Mixture % roughage Grain (p/1000 sheep p/week -tonne) Roughage (p/1000 sheep p/week -tonne) TOTAL (p/1000 sheep p/week -tonne)
1 40 60 1.4 2.1 3.5
2 50 50 1.6 1.6  
3 60 40 1.8 1.2 3.0
4 70 30 1.9 0.8 2.7
5 80 21 2.2 0.2 2.7
6 90 10 2.3 0.2 2.5
7 100 0 2.4 0.0 2.4

Grain poisoning

Take care introducing grain to sheep. Engorgement can cause grain poisoning (i.e. lactic acidosis). Symptoms are loss of appetite, lameness and scouring. If you notice grain poisoning, drop the grain ration back to the previous level for a few days.

Affected sheep can be drenched with 15g of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in 600ml of water. Repeat if necessary.

Losses can occur when sheep are given high protein feeds after a period of fasting or after moving from dry pastures to rapidly growing crops.

Minerals in grain

Grains are deficient in calcium, so mix 1-1.5% finely ground limestone into the full grain ration.

Vitamin supplementation when feeding grain

Vitamin A is present in green feed as carotene and is converted to vitamin A inside the sheep. Adult sheep normally carry enough vitamin A in their liver so should not need supplementation.

However, sheep may need additional vitamin A when:

  • a full grain ration is fed for more than 1 year
  • rams are to be joined after 2-6 months with no access to any green feed
  • lambs are weaned from drought-affected mothers with depleted liver vitamin A reserves.

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