Get Sheep Started on Feed Faster at the Feedlot

Wellness : Health

Wellness : Nutrition

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Purina Animal Nutrition

It’s off to the races as soon as newly weaned lambs arrive at the feedlot. But any bumps in the road – big or small – during those first few days can put animals behind.
The biggest challenge sheep feedlot operations face is getting animals in and getting them on feed. If you can get them eating right away and address any health issues, you can see a faster finish with more efficient growth and more pounds at market time.
Start strong to finish strong by brushing up your receiving protocols with these tips:

Slowly ramp up energy

The most important thing is getting newly arrived sheep started on feed quickly, without disrupting their rumens and causing acidosis. The number one reason for acidosis in sheep is by eating too much high-energy ration to start with.
If you’re seeing problems with acidosis (indicated by diarrhea and loss of appetite), work with your nutritionist to adjust your receiving ration. Start with a low-energy, high-roughage diet with 80-90% forage for 7-10 days. Gradually increase energy until animals are on a high-energy diet that can maximize growth and get them to market weight as rapidly as possible. 
Most animals haven’t been exposed to any kind of supplemental diet other than forage before coming to the feedlot. Taking the time to get their rumen right from the beginning will pay off with more efficient growth later on.

Water, hay…and more water

Lambs entering the feedlot don’t know how to eat large quantities yet, and if the ration is too high in energy, they may not eat at all.
If animals are without feed long enough, their rumens can begin to shut down, and you could see higher death loss. One foolproof way to encourage eating is by providing hay and fresh, clean water immediately when animals arrive. Consuming hay will encourage animals to start searching for water, which in turn will encourage more feed intake.
To further support hydration, ensure multiple water sources are available and add an electrolyte to the water for the first several days.   

Stop coccidiosis in its tracks

Animals arriving at the feedlot are at risk for the perfect storm of conditions that encourage coccidiosis in sheep. The most common time for a coccidiosis outbreak is shortly after weaning. Compound that with the stress of transportation, warm temperatures and a new environment at the feedlot, and an outbreak is likely to happen.
Heading off coccidiosis before you see any visible symptoms is critical. Once symptoms show, the damage to the digestive tract is already done, resulting in reduced feed consumption, feed conversion and growth performance .1 And most cases of coccidiosis in sheep are subclinical, with animals never showing outward signs of disease.
Adding a coccidiostat like Bovatec® or Deccox®, along with proper sanitation, is your first line of defense. If animals break with coccidiosis, work with your veterinarian to treat immediately and follow with B Vitamins, a probiotic and lots of roughage to help reactivate the rumen.

Support high-risk lambs

While most feedlots opt for a commodity blend ration, consider using a pre-made ration for high-risk lambs. A pre-made ration can support faster growth and help address health issues, which can add more value at market and help offset the higher feed cost.
Pre-made receiving rations can be top-dressed on hay or mixed with commodity feeds to get weaned lambs started quicker. And pre-made rations are usually pelleted to prevent sorting, which is especially important with medicated feeds where it’s critical for animals to eat a full portion to get the right dosage.
A pre-made receiving ration can be fed for up to a month and slowly phased out as a more concentrated grain ration is introduced.  
Set yourself up for success at market with a dialed-in receiving protocol that encourages feed consumption and supports optimal health. Want to learn more? Sign up to receive sheep nutrition and management tips in your inbox.
[1] Schoenian, Susan. 2018. Coccidiosis: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Control. University of Maryland Small Ruminant Extension Program.