Growing Lambs on Green Feed

Key Points

A combination of a weaker lamb market and higher grain prices are making grain feedlot finishing lambs a very risky and in many cases unprofitable business. AusFarm Nutrition Products recommend reducing cost of production by effectively and efficiently utilising available green feed to get lambs up to saleable weight as soon as possible. This can be achieved by making the right grazing decisions at the right time and pairing a grazing program with effective mineral and trace element supplementation.

Producers feeling the squeeze

In August 2023, MLA’s National Trade Lamb Indicator recorded its lowest average lamb price in almost ten years.1 At the same time grain prices tend to be heading in the opposite direction, slugging producers with a huge cost-price squeeze that could see them sell lambs at a loss.

Similarly, in a market that was thriving 18 months ago, the demand for feeder lambs has significantly dropped off, giving producers little choice but to finish lambs for a depressed market.

The solution is in efficient green feed finishing

In many regions, winter crops have been well utilised, and if supported by a green feed supplement like StockMins-Crop Grazer Plus have helped recently weaned lambs achieve growth rates in excess of 250g/hd/day. With crops locked up producers are looking for alternative finishing forage for lambs in early spring. This is where fresh pastures can be utilised to great effect.

Micheal Savli, Technical Manager at AusFarm Nutrition Products (ANP) proposes that finishing lambs on pasture may be the most efficient way forward.

“Although all production systems are different, where there is green feed, effective grazing management of green feed can be the most efficient way to finish lambs this season.”

Nutritional requirements of a growing lamb

To achieve optimal growth rates on pasture, lambs require a dry matter intake (DMI) of around 4% of their body weight per day. Of that, ideally, total diet protein of 16% and Metabolisable Energy (ME) of 11-12MJ/kg DM.

Rapid growth on lush green feed with StockMins-Crop Grazer Plus

Like crops, during early-spring most winter dominant pastures are in their active growing phase and are at the peak of their nutritional value (70 to 80% digestibility, 10 to 12 MJ/kg DM and 22 to 26% protein). This is more than adequate to achieve rapid growth when paired with an effective green feed supplement like StockMins-Crop Grazer Plus: Green Feed Supplement for Sheep.

“However, closely monitoring the quality and quantity of feed is key to success. Knowing when to move them onto a new pasture or when to supplement feed are where efficiencies are gained.”

Value decreases as green feed matures

When temperatures begin to rise in mid-spring, winter dominant pastures enter their reproductive phase. Growth rates that were achievable in late-winter and early-spring, would no longer be supported by maturing pasture without adequate energy supplementation.

Pasture value chart for growing lambs
Diagram showing how pasture value changes as it matures

Boost value of maturing green feed with StockMins-Lamb Finisher

In order to correct this energy shortfall, ANP recommend feeding a high energy grain (e.g., barley, to an appropriate level based on quality and quantity of green feed available). The inclusion of StockMins-Lamb Finisher can significantly increase feed conversion efficiency and boost growth rates of lambs in a grain assisted grazing operation.

Finish lambs well on summer grazing crops like lucerne

As winter pastures begin to flower, from mid-spring onwards, protein and digestibility become limiting factors for growth rates of grazing livestock. This is the perfect time to graze a lush lucerne, as its high protein concentration makes it ideal for growing lambs. Energy is still limiting in lucerne, so offering barley to supplement the energy short-fall and pairing it with StockMins-Lamb Finisher can see lambs finish well by growing more than 300g/hd/day.

Summer crops like chicory and some grazing brassicas are great forms of protein and energy and can be well utilised in finishing programs during summer.

If no other option, finish on grain during summer

If lucerne or a quality summer crop is not available, it may be time to bite the bullet and finish lambs for the final few months on grain. Hopefully, the efficiencies gained from utilising green feed up to this point can limit the time on grain and reduce the overall cost of production.

AusFarm Nutrition customers have had great success in effectively growing and finishing lambs on pasture. Contact the team to see how you can turbo charge your pasture finishing operation and grow your best lambs this season.