Releasing sheep from confinement

Max Newsome, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Livestock Officer

It is very tempting to let sheep onto pasture at the first sign of a green pick however the transition needs to be managed.

The change in nutrition for Merinos needs to be as smooth as possible to manage both their health and wool quality. A rapid change in feed, i.e. onto green feed, will likely cause metabolic diseases such as Pulpy Kidney and also increase wool follicle growth and diameter which then reduces tensile strength and increases the chances of a fibre break.

After rain, paddock assessment is critical and needs to be carried out regularly as pastures will change rapidly. It is important to know your Feed-On-Offer (FOO), pasture growth rate and pasture quality.

As a general guide:

  • Initially, let sheep out onto shorter green feed (<3cm height). This will help manage the transition and control intake as they have to “work” harder for feed. Then move them to better feed that will meet their full requirements in 5-7 days.
  • Dry sheep should be released from containment onto 400-500kg dry matter per hectare (DM/ha) of available pasture.
  • Ewes in late pregnancy need 1,000kg DM/ha of pasture available. Higher FOO is desirable for twin-bearing ewes and ongoing supplementation may be required.
  • Ewes at the point of lambing or in lactation require a minimum of 1,200kg DM/ha for single bearing ewes or 1,500kg DM/ha for multiple bearing ewes. (Data based from “AWI - Release sheep from containment feeding”).

Gorging

To avoid animals gorging when they are released from confinement feeding areas, provide ad lib access to good quality hay prior to releasing them to ensure they are not hungry when they move onto the pasture. Try releasing them later in the day after feeding because they won’t be as hungry.

In the initial 5-7 day release period, it is well worth considering letting them out of confinement for a short period each day to help control intake and then increase their grazing time by 30 minutes each day. Alternatively, supplementation with the confinement ration can be continued in the paddock to allow time for the rumen to adjust to green feed for a minimum of one week.

Body condition

Consider the body condition of the stock prior to letting them out to pasture. Unless a large amount of quality pasture is available, it may be worthwhile feeding the lighter end a high-energy diet for a bit longer so they can be more closely managed and increase their body score in line with the remainder of the mob.

Vaccinations

The transition from confinement feeding to a paddock situation needs to be managed and done smoothly to avoid any animal health issues and ensure the productivity of the flock.

Before the move, check the flock vaccination history. If they have not been vaccinated in the past three months, it is crucial they be vaccinated at least 10 days prior to release to ensure good protection against Pulpy Kidney and other clostridial diseases.

If you would like further information about releasing sheep from confinement or have any other animal health and nutrition queries, please contact Northern Tablelands Local Land Services on 02 6732 8800.

ENDS

Media contact: Annabelle Monie 0429 626 326 or annabelle.monie@lls.nsw.gov.au

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