MORE than 100 farmers turned out for a sheep lot feeding and summer nutrition information day held by Elders at Katanning last week.
Agriculture Department sheep and pasture research officer Ned Crossley was the only speaker who did not have to compete with thunder, lightning and persistent rain in his address.
He told farmers sheep were not mini-cows or pigs in intensive feeding systems and for this reason he was part of what was planned to be a three year trial monitoring eight sheep feedlot sites.
From this it is hoped to develop an industry code of practice and best-practice guidelines that would benefit the sustainability of confinement feeding systems which was critical for industry security.
Already they had found feedlots were generally a low stress environment for sheep.
And although sheep farmers had to account for nutrient run-off from sites, sheep feedlots were drier than cattle pens and it was possible to bed down an impermeable layer of straw and manure that prevented nutrients leaching into the soil and water table.
Event sponsor Milne Feeds received a show of support from farmers for establishing a pellet depot at its Katanning site five years after closing its Katanning manufacturing plant.
The company has launched a new HyFibe growth pellet for sheep maintenance designed to give a moderate growth response for paddock-run sheep.
Milne¹s regional ruminant advisor Steve Field said the pellets had a low grain content and were based on straw and by-pass protein.
He said they carried adequate nutrients to meet peak demand from ewes immediately before mating, during the last trimester of pregnancy and during early lactation.
The high amount of straw meant they were completely safe to be fed at full ration immediately and without need for an introductory period.
The seminar had a display of Dohne cross ewes that had been fed the ration for three weeks during which they had a 230-240 grams a day weight gain.
But Mr Field said farmers could more usually expect an average daily gain of about 170gm/day unless their sheep were superior feed converters.
The pellet was not a replacement for the company¹s lamb finisher pellet but was designed to feed the rumen microbes that broke down plant cellulose rather than the animal.
The importance of supplementing summer pastures and stubbles to extend their values was highlighted with Milne Feeds nutritionist Jenny Davis saying there were products available to improve rumen efficiency, especially when grazing stubble.
These could improve stubble conversion ratios from 20kg of stubble to achieve 1kg of live weight gain to 7:1.
Animal efficiency was restricted to the availability of the most deficient mineral in their dietary requirement.
It was important to ensure they had the correct balance of macro and trace minerals for good rumen function.
NSW guest speaker Michael Malloy from the animal health and nutrition company Janos Hoey told farmers they were in an animal industry that had the best future of any in Australia.
Many pig farmers in NSW had converted intensive eco-shelter systems to feed sheep and one cattle company at Wagga Wagga was trialing 5000 sheep in a feedlot and, if successful, would establish facilities to feed 25,000 lambs at a time under cover for the domestic market.
Regardless whether feeding big or small numbers, small gains in efficiency and time on feed were extremely important.
His message to farmers was that they got what they paid for when providing their sheep with minerals.
He was promoting ProviMins and unlike some of the organic minerals on the market that the sheep could not unlock he said all minerals were active and available to sheep in Provimins¹ range.
The advantages were the oiled, granular form which made them weather resistant and non-leaching and the ability to offer sheep free-access to them year round.
Although his company marketed a bigger range it included specialised products for combating nutritional problems such as grass tetany, which was not experienced in WA.
He said macro minerals were not generally lacking in green pastures but as it dried off plants' minerals returned to the soil and minerals such as sodium and potassium were not stored in the body but needed to be provided on a daily basis.