Sheep feeding and nutrition

Page last updated: Monday, 22 June 2020 - 11:36am

Managing good nutrition of sheep in the Mediterranean climate of south-west Western Australia requires constant monitoring and planning. Sheep productivity, health and welfare can be held at acceptable levels if feed and water supply matches demand.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development supplies a comprehensive range of information resources for graziers wanting to achieve good management of livestock.

Grazing pastures

Most pastures in south-west Western Australia are comprised of annual species, growing in the Mediterranean climate cool wet winters, and senesced in the warm to hot dry summers. This inevitably means that there are periods in the year where pasture supply and livestock demand do not match:

  • Autumn: There is little dry feed left after summer, and pastures germinate after the first rains in a cooling trend. This period is often termed the 'feed gap'. See supplementary feeding below.
  • Winter: If pastures have established well in autumn, there is enough feed on offer, and the pasture growth rate keeps pace with livestock demand.
  • Spring: Pastures grow rapidly in this period of adequate soil moisture and increasing day length and temperatures. Feed on offer and pasture growth rates are usually much higher than livestock demand. This 'excess' growth matures and provides a feed resource over summer.
  • Summer: Pastures are dry, and are gradually trampled, eaten and lose their soluble components with any rain. Nutrition of pregnant ewes needs careful monitoring over this period, as feed supply is decreasing and feed demand is increasing.

Supplementary feeding

Supplementing pasture feed in autumn is standard practice. Supplements include grains from cereals and pulses, hay, and manufactured pellets.

In drier than usual seasons, supplementary feeding may extend for long periods. A dry winter and spring means that supplementary feeding may be needed from early in summer through until pasture grows in winter. A dry autumn and winter means that the 'feed gap' may last for many months, and also result in less feed available over summer.

Feed budgeting

We recommend doing a feed budget for the full year: matching feed supplies with feed demand, and accounting for seasonal risk. Feed budgeting should be part of a livestock management plan, which can include things like livestock sales, agisting, and feedlotting. We also recommend doing a livestock water budget at the same time. Climate change, showing as reduced rainfall and higher temperatures in Western Australia, has resulted in greatly reduced runoff into farm dams, and a number of water deficiency (for livestock) declarations by government.

Sheep feeding and nutrition resources

These links provide information on pasture use, supplementary feeding, and other subjects related to good nutrition of sheep:

Contact information

Danny Roberts
+61 (0)8 9892 8535