Group of sheep grazing in paddock at farm

KEEDYSVILLE, Md. — Early results are inconclusive for a University of Maryland-led study of supplemental feeding of pastured sheep.

Extension scientists reported their findings in a Sept. 10 virtual small ruminant field day for the university’s Western Maryland Research and Education Center.

In the study, sheep were divided into two groups. Both groups grazed on a rich pasture, but one group also received a daily supplement of barley.

The pasture — with clover, chicory, oats, cow peas, sunn hemp and other forage species —could more than fulfill the energy and crude protein requirements for the sheep.

Supplements like barley are normally fed when the pasture doesn’t provide adequate nutrition by itself, but sheep and goat specialist Susan Schoenian this study is looking at whether grain is helpful even when the grazing is good.

“There are pros and cons,” Schoenian said. “You may say it’s crazy, they don’t need supplementation. But the jury is still out.”

Barley was chosen over soy hulls because it’s the more economical feed. Soy hulls can also pose a choking hazard because the animals eat quickly.

The sheep were weighed, evaluated for body condition and checked for scouring, anemia and worms. There were few worm problems in the sheep.

It’s too soon to draw any conclusions, in part because no carcass data have been obtained. COVID-19 frustrated plans to take the sheep to market this year.

The researchers will continue the project in 2021.

During the virtual field day, Extension forage specialist Amanda Grev also gave some tips on pasture fencing.

Square paddocks tend to be the most efficient shape, but farmers do need to consider the location of water, shade and shelter.

“Flexibility is the key,” Grev said.

When mapping out lanes for moving livestock, farmers should make sure the space wide enough for farm equipment, not just sheep.

Grev showed a picture of a goat stuck in a fence to remind farmers that the size of fence openings is also an important consideration.

“Start small and keep it simple,” she said. “Grazing comes in many shapes and forms.”

Lancaster Farming