Alternative Winter Feeds

Because we don’t feed grain or soy, and without a tractor we have limited control over our hay quality, we turn to other traditional feeds to get our sheep through the winter.

We are just beginning our experiments in traditional fodder crops. We have been very pleased so far with the ease of growing these vegetables and how well the sheep like them.

Seeds we’ve used:

http://www.harrisseeds.com/storefront/p-544-rutabaga-american-purple-top.aspx
http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-7521-mammoth-red-mangels.aspx
http://www.burpee.com/vegetables/radish/radish-french-breakfast-prod001161.html

Other suppliers:

Our local pumpkin stand sold us their remaining pumpkin/squash inventory on November 1st, which lasted us until Christmas.

Feeding rate:

We feed all these vegetables at about 2 lbs per head per day. Both beets and Brassica have known issues with overfeeding, so we don’t want to overdo those, and we don’t want major swings in the diet when we switch supplemental feed sources as the season progresses, so the majority of the diet is the more steady hay supply. We feed hay twice a day (feeder is kept full so they have all-day access) and roots/squashes once a day (that’s just what works with my schedule.)

Feeding calendar:

We start by feeding out the more delicate squashes, and when they go bad in late December then move on to the roots, starting smallest to largest. The calendar is driven more by the keeping ability of the vegetables than the needs of the sheep.

Experiences:

Sheep take time to acclimate to new feeds, if you can get a few eating the new feed, the rest will usually follow the example given time. Once they start eating it, they get excited about it.

Pumpkins are available at bargain prices after Halloween, but they have limited storage ability and can not be held in the barn all winter. Frozen fruits can still be fed out, but each time you get a thaw some percentage will go bad. By Christmas our remaining stock all went to the compost. The 10-15 lb size is best, as they smash nicely when tossed into decent sized chunks. Chunks should be sized so that no more than three sheep access each piece at a time. The wee pumpkins are rather sturdy and hard to smash, the larger pumpkins hard to toss. A sledgehammer aids in smashing but often just makes hammer shaped holes. Billhook was somewhat useful, but is not shaped well for the task. I’m going to try a machete next year.

Mangels:

These were very easy to harvest, and the sheep loved the greens right away although they took time to acclimate to roots. Better keepers than pumpkins, but forget using a sledgehammer to break them up, as they smash rather than crack. Cutting implement required to break them up. Chunks should be sized so that no more than two sheep access the same piece. (Sheep are more defensive over them than pumpkins.)

Radishes:

We grew these out as large roots rather than harvesting early like the seed packet directs for human consumption. They were easier to grow than mangels, a bit harder to harvest, but fed out very well without cutting up.

Rutabaga:

Much the same as Radishes. The sheep don’t seem to care about one root more than the other, although I’ve not done extensive feeding tests. These are a good size for feeding out, but maybe the largest could be halved.

Items to test next year:

http://www.anniesheirloomseeds.com/products/Brunswick-Cabbage.html
http://www.anniesheirloomseeds.com/products/Blue-Hubbard-Squash.html
http://www.anniesheirloomseeds.com/annies-winter-squash-mix/
http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-8855-white-icicle-short-top.aspxhttp://www.harrisseeds.com/storefront/p-13511-turnip-purple-top-white-globe-organic.aspx

Read more about non-grain feed concentrates: