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Strategies to Reduce Sheep Input Costs For 2022


For the past number of months we have been hearing about the increased cost of fertiliser, animal feed prices and the continuation of this in 2022. Joanne Masterson, Teagasc advisor Athenry has key advice on strategies within the farmer's control, to reduce sheep input costs for 2022

One of the main drivers for the increase in fertiliser is the cost of natural gas, which is widely used in the production of fertiliser. This increase in natural gas prices is unexpected and is been caused by a reduction in the supply of gas available on the European market. These are factors that are out of our control; however, with the New Year approaching now is the time to put in place some strategies that can help to reduce these input costs on your farm.

Fertiliser

It is a good idea to put in place a fertiliser budget for your farm. Look at how much you spent last year on fertiliser and set yourself a maximum figure for 2022 that you can realistically go to, it is important that you don’t put yourself in a situation that you cannot pay back bills at the end of the year. There are financial options available such as bank stocking loans and also the cultivate farm loan provided by credit unions which is a loan designed for farmers that provides short to medium term loan opportunities. You should also look at pricing around at different merchants and see what is available on the market; you may find that there are some differences.

Look at your most recent soil sample results and find out what plots of land have good P (Phosphorus) and K (Potassium) Indexes. If parcels are in index 3 or above for P & K you could look at cutting back on fertiliser amounts on these, however, it is important to note that certain areas will need the normal amounts of P & K such as silage ground and reseeds. If you have not spread, lime in a few years spread it as soon as you can up to your soil sample recommendations, this will free up locked N, P & K in the soil.

Slurry more than any year will be an important asset on the farm and is an important nutrient management tool. This spring slurry should be spread using the Low Emission Slurry Spreading method, spread early (weather permitting) and target slurry to fields that need it most (P/K Index 1 or 2 and/or silage fields). You should also look at doing a winter feed budget which will give you an idea if you will have a surplus or deficit of feed. Surplus feed may reduce silage or hay needed to be grown in 2022 and if possible do not sell surplus bales.

Stocking Rates

Reducing stocking rates should be considered on highly stocked farms. Reducing the S.R. by 10% could reduce fertiliser requirement by 15-20%, however, it is important to make sure you keep above your minimum stocking requirement for certain schemes so keep this in mind. At scanning time, you will be able to identify dry ewes, and you may also have older unproductive ewes that should be sold off the farm or if you also have a cattle enterprise on the farm, it is a good time to look at selling unproductive stock.

Sheep Feeding

The cost of animal feed is also increasing. What are some of the strategies that can put in place to reduce the ration required on your farm?

This is a good time to get your silage tested. By analysing silage, it allows you to supplement your stock with the appropriate rate of concentrates to meet their dietary requirements. You can then determine the level of meal feeding that is required by the quality of the silage. Get in contact with your local advisor if you want to take a sample to prepare for spring feeding.

When buying sheep ration it is important that you look at the ration labels in order to find out the energy quality of the ration you are buying. A value for money concentrate is always one that has the right balance of energy, protein, fibre & minerals. If you look at the table below you will see that the green box indicates high-energy ingredients, which are listed by inclusion rate in descending order. When listed in descending order ingredients at the top of the list make up the highest % of the ration. Usually the top 4 ingredients are the ones to look at.

  • A ewe’s energy & protein needs increase in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy.
  • To avoid loss of condition and to produce good colostrum, good birth weights & plenty of early milk you must feed a good quality ration.
  • A ration containing 18-19% crude protein is recommended to meet the ewe’s protein requirement pre lambing.
  • Soya bean meal should be the principal source of the protein in the last month of pregnancy.
  • Purchase sheep rations on the basis of ingredient content and quality and not on price only.
  • Also only feed singles for final 2-3 weeks depending on their body condition score.
  • Ewes that have a lower condition may need to be pulled out for extra feeding at this point.

It may be a good idea to buy ration in January, as the prospect is that it will increase.

Ration labels – ingredients listed by inclusion rate in descending order

By putting some of these strategies in place over the coming months will help to reduce some of these input costs. Farming will always have challenges; the farming community has overcome these in the past and will do again.

The Teagasc Sheep Specialists and Teagasc Advisors issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers on Tuesdays here on Teagasc Daily.  Find more on Teagasc Sheep here  Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. Find your local Teagasc office here