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Feeding No Grain in Winter??

1014 Views 5 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Kasidy
Hello, I am looking for input from shepherds in the cold northern climates that have snow from Nov - April.

So the big question is... does anyone have totally grass-fed sheep even in the northern climates? I realize that moose and deer don't have grain supplementation of any kind but everything I have read about sheep states giving pregnant ewes grain and also at flushing. Some are grass-fed then the last few weeks before market are grain-fed.

I have been reading from various medical sources that eating grass-raised meat and having milk/cheese from grass-raised sheep/cows etc. is better for you than grain fed. Supposedly about the grass fed meat is Omega 3 fats and a grain fed animals would be Omega 6. These doctors advocate that therefore "wild game" is a better health choice if one can't find grass-fed animals. On restaurant chef did the experiment cooking with both and the concensus was that the grass-fed was better.

Some sheep are easy keepers but I worry about the health of the lambs/ewes. We have good hay and also "fresh green hay" that has been vacuum packed to lock in nutrients.

Thanks in advance for your help.
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I am feeding high production East Friesian sheep through the winter here in Northern Wisconsin on just hay alone...however it is high octane hay it is third cutting alfalfa and tests 22% crude protien and TDN of 66%. I work closely with a nutritionist here who mixes my minerals according to what I am feeding. He says this hay has everything the ewes will need for all phases of production such as last 6 weeks and lactation when energy and protien needs are the highest. Indeed the ewes look really good so far they seem to be gaining weight slowly right now during early gestation, wool looks great and they are obviously feeling good, bouncing around and looking nice and alert.
This hay will just barely meet their energy needs during the last 6 weeks. So unless your hay is 3rd cutting alfalfa you may need to supplement grain then. When I do the math it seems to me that to feed a less quality hay and then supplement with grain is no more economical than buying this pricey 3rd cutting. With grain feeding there is quite a bit of extra labor and facilities needed to feed grain to 300 ewes effectively.
Sheep adore Alfalfa hay also and since it is fine (3rd cutting) they clean up everything-no waste! If you feed 1st cutting grass hay they may leave up to 50% wasted because sheep really prefer fine hay and fine grazing.
Kind regards,
Calvin Kalmon
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An interesting topic. I've always fed grain because it fit the whole farm managment plan which doesn't have me growing suitable hay (We get a lot of winter killed alfalfa and my land base isn't tile drained plus we get alot of rain) and I can get grain very reasonably priced in bulk directly off the field. I work to my strengths and acknowlege the weaknesses. Some breeds use forage better than others, some breeds are a little dependant on grain. I'll bet my crazy Cheviots could produce on medium quality hay alone while my Hamps and Rideaus would need more grain. To be fair my Hamps and Rideaus would drop more lambs and have far more milk to feed those lambs even though all are kept on similar feeds.
Is this omega 3 meat something you want to sell or is it for your own use? Just curious I am a big fan of value added marketing. Where it will sell.
I have a book by Peter Schroder More Sheep More Grass More Money that I havn't finished reading. It came highly recomended to me and I will get through it one of these days. So long a the weather holds off for me I have too much to do outside! Maybe someone here has read it and can comment?
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Living here in MN, we won't see our pasture for about 4 months. My sheep eat a diet mostly of hay, 2nd and 3rd cutting alfalfa and orchard grass mix, from our own field, and a small amount of grain. I am by no means an expert, but I don't see any reason why you couldn't feed just hay. I read somewhere that grain feeding livestock didn't start until after the depression, as a way to give farmers a place to sell their crops. You could also look into using kelp meal with your hay, for added minerals and protein.
as too non grain fed wild meat the farmers in our region have large losses to wild life . lots of grain fed venison on the plate here!
I have been raising about 50 head of Suffolk and Columbia ewes in north central Montana for a number of years. We raise our own alfalfa/grass mix hay. Seeded at about 80/20. I have never fed any grain at any time to the sheep. I reserve the majority of the second cutting for the sheep and goats. (first cutting goes to the cows) I have selected for multiple births and big lambs over the years. My ewes are in excellent condition when they lamb and the lambs are nice and big when they are born and grow out well. The last few years I have had some ewes that were really too fat, so I have started feeding the herd half first and half second cutting until the last two months before lambing when I switch to all second. Mine are on good irrigated pasture all summer, so they go into the winter and breeding season in good flesh.
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