When to use a confinement feedlot
Conﬁnement feeding is a useful option for sheep producers wanting to feed for maintenance during a drought, defer graze during autumn in a normal year, or feed for production to finish lambs. Incorporating a feedlot into these feeding systems requires consideration of location, equipment and costs.
Confined paddock feeding should be considered in summer when the residual dry matter has declined across a farm to the point that there is a risk of wind and/or water erosion. While this usually occurs sometime in March, it depends on several factors:
- the peak pasture biomass in the previous spring. If it is a dry spring, significantly less biomass accumulates, and the limits for wind erosion are reached quicker than normal
- the date of senescence/haying off. If it is an early finish, the critical limits for residual feed on offer (FOO) to prevent wind erosion will be reached earlier than normal
- seasonal conditions through summer. Summer rainfall and high temperatures increase the rate of breakdown of dry pasture.
Setting up a confinement feedlot or paddock is also beneficial after the break of season to allow deferred grazing, a tactic designed to allow germinated plants to establish a root system and reach a leaf area index that maximises pasture growth rate. The single biggest factor influencing early pasture growth is plant density, so removing grazing animals reduces the risk of uprooting small seedlings. A minimum feed on offer (FOO) of 500 kilograms of dry matter per hectare (kg DM/ha) is recommended before animals are introduced onto the deferred pasture.
The advantages and disadvantages of confinement feeding are outlined below.
- minimises soil and nutrient loss from bare ground (prevents erosion)
- preserves pasture density or allows pasture density to increase after the break
- preserves pasture composition, preventing overgrazing of one plant species
- prevents sheep 'chasing the green pick' and expending energy after the break
- enables close observation of stock in poor condition.
- cost of full ration feeding
- animal health issues associated with confined feeding (for example salmonella, coccidiosis, pulpy kidney, grain poisoning and worms)
- infrastructure costs if creating a full intensive feedlot
- need clean and adequate water in each pen or paddock used for sheep feeding (at least 4-6 litres of water per sheep, per day)
- effort and expense of possible effluent disposal.
Consider these points when choosing a site to confine feed:
- convenience to facilities
- reliable access to adequate water supply
- ensure minimum recommended distances from water courses and water storage are applied to avoid contamination (see next page).