Feed plays a major role in growth as well as in the overall productivity, health and well-being of the sheep flock. For this reason, it constitutes approximately 60% of the total cost of production. In dry regions, feed can account for as much as 2/3 of sheep rearing costs. With current fuel, fertilizer and commodity prices on the rise, feed costs have a potential to be much higher. In order to meet the dietary needs of sheep, feed is often formulated in farms using readily available sheep feed ingredients. Sheep feed generally varies in terms of nutritional value. There are also variations in nutrient requirements in relation to age, weight and production stage. Nutrition research spanning more than 100 years has defined the nutrients required by animals. This information is of the essence in selecting the appropriate sheep feed ingredients.

Soybean Meal

Soybean meal is the most commonly used protein supplement in the formulation of sheep feed and is the standard used for determining the value of other protein supplements. It is a palatable feedstuff hence its popularity among commercial feed producers. Soybean meal is basically the product remaining after extracting most of the oil from whole soybeans. Various agricultural research point out that soya and cereal content included in sheep feed have a huge bearing on the success of the lambing season. To add on, the protein found in soybean meal plays a crucial role in animal growth and development. Soybeans contain about 89% dry matter, 48% crude protein and an overall of 78% digestible nutrients. It is highly famed for its superior role in the prevention of mastitis. Soybean meal also improves colostrum quality to ensure strong lambs with a strong immunity and therefore lamb vigour thereby increasing chances of survival. Farmers are advised to practice caution when using this type of sheep feed ingredient. This is because excess consumption of protein based feeds can be harmful to animal health.

Grain

Grain is a major ingredient in the formulation of sheep feed. Farmers often use it during dry periods or when there is shortage of pasture. Grain is highly palatable to ruminants and contains essential nutrients including roughage. The most popular types of grain feeds mainly comprise of wheat, barley, sorghum, maize, oats, rye and sheep nuts. Energy feed are fed for the purpose of providing nutrients that the forage part of sheep dietary plan is lacking. For instance, forage diets often cannot meet the nutritional needs of high producing animals, such as lactating females, especially those nursing triplets; and lambs with the genetic potential for rapid growth. Grain sheep feed ingredients are therefore given as a means to counter tis deficiency and increase productivity. An important point to note is that excessive or sudden intake of grain can cause numerous digestive and metabolic problems. Cereal grains pose an acidosis risk as a result of their high starch content. It is advisable for cereal grains to be introduced to animals gradually over 10 to 20 days to allow the rumen time to adapt.

Hay

Hay is an important source of roughage hence makes up essential sheep feed ingredients. Hay for sheep is usually made from cereals, sometimes with a mix of both cereal and a legume component, particularly vetches or peas, and less commonly from pastures of grass and clover mix. The digestibility of hay depends on the time of harvest. Hay that is cut timeously has moderate digestibility of approximately 55 to 65% and crude protein of about 7 to 12.5%. Alfalfa and timothy hay are among highly recommended sheep feed ingredients. Alfalfa hay is an excellent feed for sheep and is best used during lactation when ewes require more protein to promote higher levels of milk production. A variety of farmers have recorded excellent results in gestating ewes that are fed alfalfa hay. To add on, alfalfa is high in calcium hence ewes are able to meet their calcium requirements without mobilizing body stores of nutrients.

Sheep Feed Additives

Feed additive may be compounds added to the ration for different reasons other than to produce nutrients. They are usually provided to maintain health and boost performance of sheep and lambs. For this reason, they are essential sheep feed ingredients. Commercially produced feeds often contain some form of feed additives. Some of the most common additives for sheep feed are antibiotics, ionophores, and probiotics. Antibiotics are provided to protect animals from rampant illnesses and diseases thereby guaranteeing productivity and profitability. Ionophores are specialized additives that assist sheep with digestion and feed utilization. They also aid in the protection of sheep against harmful bacteria, for example coccidia which sometimes find their way into the digestive tract. Probiotics are provided as a means to improve digestion and immunity. Other types of feed additives include nutrients supplements, especially minerals as grass feed can sometimes fall short.  High-quality additives lead to improved muscle tone and overall top line, contributing to a healthy sheep that makes a great appearance. Sheep should always have ready access to minerals, either in the form of loose minerals in a clean dispenser or from mineral blocks in a clean holder. Sheep formulated nutrient additives help to supply animals with essential nutrients like calcium, chlorine, sodium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulphur, potassium, Vitamins A, D, and E, and trace minerals including copper, cobalt, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.

Conclusion

It goes without saying that nutrition exerts a huge influence on flock reproduction, milk production, and lamb growth. This directly translates to the types of sheep feed ingredients appropriate for animal growth. Some feed stuff are low in essential nutrients thus offer nothing of value to animals. Prolonged feeding of such ingredients puts animals at risk of deficiency illnesses. There is therefore need for farmers to be aware of proper feed for animals. The recommended sheep feed ingredients are those that contain most or all of the essential nutrients, namely, energy, vitamins, protein, minerals and sufficient water content. Sheep feed ingredients should be selected and rations formulated using the nutritional value of the feed. This information can be gathered through research or testing all sheep feed ingredients prior to feed formulation.  The indicated is generally an ideal means of providing sheep with suitable feed for early development and productivity.