With lamb pellets at $500-$550/t, supplementing grain to lambs is the last thing on many producers’ minds. Especially if you’re still fortunate enough to have pastures that are holding onto a green tinge and haven’t completely hayed-off. But, is this the right approach? Is supplementing grain worthy of closer consideration? Can the economics of grain supplementation stack up at these high supplement prices?

As always the answer seems to be “it depends!” It depends on the many possible variations unique to a particular business. Variations in feed base, lamb weight, stocking rates, the performance of other enterprises, management skill and infrastructure. Rarely are two situations the same.

If we consider and explore further, there are two main ways of grain feeding lambs – supplementing on grass or providing a complete and balanced ration in a feedlot. Both methods have their merits, but let’s focus on grain supplementation on grass and consider the potential benefits.

Firstly, lambs are already getting a proportion of their daily nutritional needs from pasture intake. The nutrition from pasture will depend on feed availability and feed quality, but at this time of the year feed quality will be almost without exception the primary driver. So the paddock feed available is already doing part of the job for us. The pasture is, relatively speaking cheap and established, so a grain supplement is an input to “top up” the daily nutrition intake. The opportunity is to achieve high lamb growth rates (just like we would in a feedlot situation) but do it far more cost effectively.

Typically, lamb growth rates drop off quite rapidly without supplementation for lambs on pastures in late spring and early summer, it’s common to have prime lambs growing at 300-350g/day on high quality pastures that are still fresh. Yet as pastures hay-off, grasses turn reproductive and clover content gradually depletes. A drop back to 150-200g/hd/day in the space of a few weeks can occur. Further degradation in pasture quality can see lambs growing at much lower (or negative) growth rates one month later on. Of course, the performance has nothing to do with a lamb’s capacity for growth – it’s been caused solely by a reduction in daily nutritional intake.

As stated, the cost benefit of supplementing grain to lambs on grass will depend on a range of factors. This year Meridian Agriculture has seen numerous clients adopting the abovementioned approach for the first time, while others have more experience in grain supplementing. Generally speaking, our estimates suggest both these sets of producers will generate a 20-30% margin on top of the cost of grain supplementation from increased lamb growth. An additional benefit will be a greater proportion of lambs sold off farm earlier, allowing remaining paddock feed to be used by other animals.

To discuss how and if grain supplementation strategies will work for your business, contact James Whale (Hamilton greater region) or James Sewell (Ballarat greater region) on 03 5341 6100.

Article by James Whale