SHEEP producers at risk of soil erosion are turning to confinement feeding over summer to protect their paddocks from land degradation and to optimise nutritional requirements.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) has received increased enquiries in recent weeks about confinement feeding and has updated its Dry Season 2021 webpages with fresh advice and information.
DPIRD veterinary officer Danny Roberts said intensive feeding in a confined area, where the majority of feed and water was supplied, to contain animals was a good option for producers with insufficient dry matter in paddocks.
"Confinement feeding is a useful strategy to prevent paddock erosion when the level of dry matter in paddocks has declined to less than 750 kilograms per hectare or 50 per cent groundcover," Dr Roberts said.
"It is important to select an appropriate site, mob size and stocking density and to develop a feeding strategy tailored to the needs of the sheep class.
"All sheep will require at least two clostridial vaccinations before the start of confinement feeding."
A new article on webpages about confinement feeding provides useful links to information on feed analysis to ensure the correct rate of supplementation and 'least costs' diets, as well as advice on the introduction of new rations.
Dr Roberts said it was important to monitor the condition score of the mobs, particularly weaners and pregnant ewes, to avoid any potential adverse consequences from supplementary feeding.
"Young sheep need to keep growing slowly over their first summer at a rate of one kilogram or more per month, while ewes need a regular increase in energy throughout their pregnancy," he said.
"Pregnant ewes should be let back into a paddock to lamb, rather than lambing in confinement or a small paddock."
There are tools available on Season 2021 webpages to develop feed and water budgets before commencing confinement feeding.
A guaranteed supply of good quality water is also essential for confinement feeding, preferably supplied via troughs, rather than dams.
The webpages also have a link to an article on 'Water quality for livestock', which details animal welfare requirements and sampling for salinity and other water quality risks.
"If water quality is poor, livestock may drink less than they need or may stop drinking altogether," Dr Roberts said.
"When livestock drink less they eat less and may lose condition, which can be a significant risk - particularly to ewes, whose milk production may reduce or cease.
"Continued high temperatures and windy conditions over the next two months will mean elevated evaporation rates and increased intake from sheep so water supplies should be monitored to ensure they are in good working order."
For more information on confinement feeding, water quality and feed and water budgeting see DPIRD's Dry Season webpages at agric.wa.gov.au
- DPIRD's Season 2021 webpages have been updated with a new article on confinement feeding to protect paddocks from erosion and manage the nutritional needs of livestock.