Coopworth History
and Breed Information

Stock for Sale

Fleece, Roving,
Felting Batts

Sheep Care and
Management Articles

Sheep Links

Fiber Links

Fiberarts Articles

Locker Hooking Supplies for Sale

How to Build a Website

Web Rings

E-Mail Us

  • Coopworth Breeding Stock
  • Handspinning Fleeces, Roving and Felting Batts
  • Reduced Hay Rations

    by Martha McGrath

    We first heard of "reduced hay rations" during the drought of 1999. While researching alternative feeds for sheep, I ran across an article by Joe Rook of Michigan State University about reduced hay rations or RHR. Mr Rook suggested limit feeding hay, particularly in early gestation, feeding about 2 lbs of hay plus 1 lb. of whole corn per head per day. Because corn is "nutrient dense", one pound of corn can replace about 2 lbs of hay. He stated that it is important to feed at least 2 lbs of hay/ head/ day to maintain a healthy rumen

    If, like us, you purchase all of your winter feed, than reducing the amount of hay that you feed may save you money. Often times you can reduce winter feeding costs by replacing some of the hay fed with feeds such as whole corn, soy hull pellets, or malt sprout pellets. You will have to do a little research, and get out the calculator to make sure that you are feeding your sheep adequate amounts of protein, energy and other important nutrients.

    The steps to calculate your ration are;

  • Calculate total energy and protein requirements of each "stage" of the flock.
  • Have hay tested for nutrient values
  • Calculate which of the available and suitable feeds are the least expensive.
  • Consider feed requirements which can be met from pasture and /or crop residues, if available.
  • Calculate the amount and cost of feed.
  • Periodically "condition score" individuals and adjust their ration, if needed.
  • I found a website that does a lot of this work for you!
    Montana State University’s Sheep Ration Program FREE online program designed to help producers meet the nutritional needs of their sheep with available forages and feeds.

    If you want to do the work for yourself, start by determining the Nutrient Requirements needed for the "stage" that your sheep are in-
    maintenance, flushing/breeding, early gestation, late gestation, early lactation, late lactation.
    Nutrient Requirements of Sheep (Online Book)
    (there is a new book, Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants: Sheep, Goats, Cervids, and New World Camelids (2007), but the entire book is not viewable online. Follow the link for purchase info.)

    Have your hay tested for nutrient values so you know how to supplement it. Talk to your local feed dealer about the cost and availability of whole or shelled corn, barley, wheat, oats, wheat midds, and soyhull pellets or malt sprout pellets, or see;
    By-Products and Regionally Available Alternative Feedstuffs for Dairy Cattle

    Calculate rations using the alternative feeds by finding the nutrient values.
    Feed Composition Table
    Typical nutrient composition of common by-product feedstuffs (DM Basis)

    Early gestation ( first 4-15 weeks) is a time of lower nutrient requirements, when the ewe's nutrient needs are not much greater than maintenance, and a good time to save money by limiting feed and feeding your lesser- quality hay. Late gestation (last 6 weeks) and early lactation (first 8 weeks) are the times of highest nutritional demand, and this is the time to feed your best hay. Research has shown the importance of good nutrition and avoiding stress during implantation of the fertilized egg, which in sheep doesn't happen till about 13-30 days after the ewe is bred.

    My feed dealer told me that soyhull pellets, at about 12% protein, were a good substitute for hay, so in the drought of 1999-2000 we fed the ewes 1 lb. of whole corn, 1 lb. soyhull pellets, plus 1.5 lbs. of alfalfa hay per head per day, split into 2 feedings, in early gestation. In late gestation we fed 1 lb. of whole corn, 1 lb. soyhull pellets, plus 2 lbs. of alfalfa hay per head per day. The ewes came through the winter in good condition, with average lamb weights of about 9 lbs., and a 220% lamb crop out of the mature Coopworth ewes.

    Last year our feed dealer suggested that we try malt sprout pellets, with about 19% protein, as a low cost alternative feed. We had him mix a feed that was 1/3 whole corn, 2/3 malt sprout pellets and a little molasses. (protein was about 14%) We fed the sheep at the rate of 2 lbs of grass hay (could not get alfalfa) plus 2 lbs of the grain mix per head per day in early gestation. In late gestation we fed about 2.5 lbs. of grain mix, plus 2 lbs. of alfalfa hay per head per day. The ewes came through the winter a little too fat, with average lamb weights of about 11 lbs., and a 225% lamb crop out of the mature Coopworth ewes.

    Be sure to periodically "condition score" individuals and adjust their ration, if needed. See Body Condition Scoring of Sheep, if you don't know how. And be sure to measure feed in lbs or kilos. Coffee cans of grain and "flakes' of hay are not accurate ways to feed, unless you have already determined the weight of the flake (and the bales are uniform), or the weight of the coffee can of corn or other supplement. Remember a coffee can of corn will not weight the same as a can of a less dense feed.

    We have since fed reduced hay rations using grass hay plus whole corn, soybean meal and ground limestone for calcium. The VA Tech "feeding Sheep" website states "When high grain diets, certain alternative feeds, or silage are fed to sheep, additional calcium is required in the diet. This can be supplied by adding feed grade limestone to the feed. A general rule is to add limestone at 1 percent of the diet."

    The sheep did well on the reduced hay rations, though they did "yell" for more feed every time they saw me! I plan to continue feeding this way. There is more mental work needed, when compared with the way we used to feed-essentially all the hay that the sheep would eat (and waste!), plus about 1/2 - 1 lb. of whole corn in late gestation, but since I find it easier, and cheaper, to feed grain, I plan to continue with RHR.

    For more info on general feeding, reduced hay rations and alternative feeds, see;
    Deer Run Sheep Links/feeding
    Montana State University’s Sheep Ration Program FREE online program designed to help producers meet the nutritional needs of their sheep with available forages and feeds.
    Feeding Sheep VA Tech
    Feeding/Nutrition, Pastures, and Minerals
    MD Small Ruminant Page-Feeding
    When is it Cost Effective to Limit Feed Hay? by Joe Rook
    Reduced Hay Rations by Joe Rook
    Feeding Alternatives For Ewes North Dakota State University
    Feeding Corn to Sheep Alberta Ag-Info Centre, contains sample rations.
    Alternative Rations for Maintaining Pregnant Beef Cows
    10 Winter Feeding Tips (written for cattle, but some good tips!)
    Feed Composition this article on tabulated composition data for feeds tells about reading tables, and has a link to a PDF file list of feedstuffs and their nutritional compositions.
    Drought Handbook for Animal/Forage Producers Universities of WV and MD
    Drought Articles from Virginia Tech
    Prussic Acid and Nitrate Poisoning Concerns (in Times of Drought)

    Two research articles on alternative feeds;
    SOYBEAN HULLS, Composition and Feeding Values
    Hay Exchange.com where to buy hay

    And here is an interesting "Historical" publication;
    Lamb Feeding Investigations 1919

    Jim and Martha McGrath
    HC 72 Box 14D
    Franklin, WV, 26807
    E-Mail Us