Farm Talk

July 19, 2011

Drought raises special concerns for sheep and goats


Parsons, Kansas — Southwest Missouri is extremely hot and dry and that makes feeding more expensive and is also worrisome for goat and sheep owners.

However, drought feeding requirements of sheep and goats depends on the type of sheep and goats and quantity and quality of feed available according to Jodie Pennington, small ruminant educator with Lincoln University Extension.

"In some grazing situations, there may be more forage available in goat grazed pastures than in sheep grazed pastures," said Pennington. "In other cases, goats and hair sheep may be turned in on brush and undergrowth to supplement the nutritional needs."

Culling of problem or lower producing animals will provide more feed per animal for those remaining and reduce the total cost when purchased feed prices are high.

Drought feeding should start before the sheep and goats lose extensive weight and before any permanent production loss in kids. Further weight loss may risk the survival of the sheep and goats (or even loss of pregnancy) by leaving them too weak to graze or get drinking water.

"It is essential that animals be observed more carefully during drought because they are more apt to wander across the fence and to other fields when adequate forages are not available," said Pennington. "That means fences should be checked to see if the animals are caught in the fences and check the animals for any injuries from trying to get to other feed."

The management of sheep and goats during a drought depends on the forage available and the body condition of the animals.

A producer can look at their animals or feel the ribs and backbone to determine if they are losing weight, however, body condition scoring can be a more precise measure of flesh on the animals.

"A rule of thumb is to initiate drought feeding before half of the sheep and goats have either decreased 0.5 in body condition score or fallen to a body condition score of two on a five point scale," said Pennington.

Make sure goats and sheep have access to enough water and shade. Adult animals need at least two gallons of water per head per day but will drink up to four gallons in hot weather.

Younger animals need less water but can be more affected by the drought than adults.

"If sheep and goats exhibit signs of being heat stressed, both water and energy allowances for maintenance should be increased to allow for the extra energy needed to cool the body," said Pennington.

Good quality hay and no sudden changes in ration are both equally important for goats and sheep during hot weather conditions.

Good quality hay or pasture should account for at least 30 percent of the feed and can be 100 percent of the diet. If it is necessary to use a different grain, Pennington recommends mixing old grain with the new, gradually increasing the concentration over at least a week.

"One challenge when sheep and goats are fed in groups is gorging or over-eating in the aggressive eaters. Over-eating can cause bloating and possible death," said Pennington.

Rates of grain feeding may vary with previous levels of feeding but, in general, the goal is to gradually increase to about 0.05 pounds per day.

"Good quality hay is usually the least expensive per nutrient to buy. Your local county Extension office will have programs that allow you to compare the relative value of different feeds," said Pennington.

For more information, contact Jodie Pennington, small ruminant educator at the MU Extension Center in Newton County at 417-455-9500.