Droughts are a reality in South Africa, especially in areas like the Northern Cape. Parts of South Africa are hit by droughts at an average rate of nearly once every five years, says Prof Tertius Brand, a specialist scientist in animal nutrition at Elsenburg.
Droughts can have detrimental effects on sheep farming, which is why it is crucial for farmers to implement proper management practices to keep their animals in good condition. It is equally important to adhere to proper management principles after a drought to regain profitability as soon as possible.
When it comes to nutrition, maintaining and regaining energy levels are one of the most important requirements for animals in a drought, says Brand.
“During a drought, animals have to walk far in search of food and water. The energy that they use to walk in search of it can use 30% or more of its daily maintenance needs,” he adds.
Animals therefore need easy access to drinking water to minimise their energy use.
Lactating ewes, and young and growing animals are a lot higher than that of animals who are only fed for conditioning.
Creep feeding plays an important part in the early weaning of lambs, because it ensures that lambs get the correct nutrition, while reducing the demand on ewes, allowing them to regain their condition before the next breeding season.
When to start feeding animals
Farmers should start supplementary feeding before ewes lose 15% of their initial weight. If they lose more than this, it will negatively affect their reproductivity, and eventually lead to feed refusal and death from starvation.
If there is enough roughage on the veld, animals should be allowed to graze on it while being provided with a production lick aimed at stimulating the rumen.
It is also advised that farmers use a hay ring when feeding their animals to prevent wastage, which could be quite costly, Brand adds.
The first thing you’d want to do as a farmer emerging from a drought, is to restore the enterprise to its optimal productivity and profitability. This means focusing on reproduction and the growth of lambs.
Feed can be very costly, which is why veld grazing combined with the right supplemental lick is the most affordable source of nutrition for sheep after a drought. Do note that the veld will also need time to recover after the drought.
If there is no veld, planted pasture is a good option, should there be enough water available on the farm.
Via Farmer’s Weekly