Ag-note: Why Ewe Should Control Feed Intake

Carolina Fernandez, Dermot Hutchinson, Randi Shaw, Jake Parkinson, Caitlyn McCaulley, OSU Animal Science Undergraduate Students
Brady Campbell, Program Coordinator, OSU Sheep Team

Why Ewe Should Control Feed Intake
** Follow the link above to view the Ag-note.

This weeks Ag-note comes from OSU students Carolina Fernandez, Dermot Hutchinson, Randi Shaw, Jake Parkinson, and Caitlyn McCaulley as they present a detailed overview on the importance of controlled feed intake in small ruminants. The students were inspired by Dr. Francis Fluharty to present on this topic as Dr. Fluharty expressed that this type of feeding strategy is not just limited to feedlot cattle. Although controlling feed intake comes with a cost due to an increase in labor and time spent feeding, the benefits from this strategy certainly outweigh these costs.

At a basic level, producers have two options when it comes to feeding strategies, ad libitum or controlled feed intake. Ad libitum feeding, more commonly referred to as “having animals on full feed”, is when animals are provided feed at all times and allowed to eat as much as they want, whenever they want. On the other hand, controlled feed intake is a management strategy in which animals are fed controlled amounts of feed at regular intervals (for example, a group of animals are fed on the basis of lbs./hd./day).

From the standpoint of convenience and lower labor inputs, ad libitum feeding is the route to go. However, ad libitum feeding can be problematic as producers tend to not check on their livestock as often as they should if adequate feed and water are known to be available. Ad libitum feeding makes it challenging for producers to exam each animal individually. If an animal is sick and not eating, many times animals in an ad libitum feeding scenario are overlooked and not noticed until drastic signs of illness are present. Animals in an ad libitum feeding system may over or under eat due to varying levels of intake over a period of time which could further lead to digestive health issues such as acidosis or bloat. In order to control for these issues, could producers implement controlled feed intake as a management strategy to improve animal health and performance?

Controlling feed intake has proven to be beneficial as animals under this type of management system have shown an increase in dry matter intake, an increase in average daily gain, and a decrease in the feed to gain ratio. For example, research has shown that cattle in a controlled feed intake management system consumed 76% less feed per unit of gain (Table 2 featured in the Ag-note linked above). In turn, this management practice could help reduce feed costs as less feed is consumed or wasted resulting in greater gains. In addition to feed costs, controlled feed intake is also beneficial from a health and carcass quality standpoint. In monitoring animal health, individuals who are not in the feed bunk during feeding or are slow to approach the feed bunk would be marked as individuals that need to be examined for illness or injury. From a carcass perspective, controlling feed intake allows for producers to manage fat cover. For example, in an ad libitum feeding system, excess energy (energy not used for maintenance or muscle growth) will be stored as fat. Storing excess energy in the form of fat is not an efficient use of energy from the diet and can decrease the value of the carcass if fat cover becomes excessive.

The best management tool available when practicing controlled feed intake is using proper feed bunk management. In using the feed bunk scoring system found in Table 1, producers are able to maximize on animal performance, minimize digestive stress, and ensure that all animals are eating consistently in order to better monitor animal health. In addition to using the feed bunk scoring system, it is important to keep records on the amount of feed provided to each pen on a daily basis. Monitoring daily feed allotment in conjunction with feed bunk scores will assist producers in determining whether the amount of feed being provided should be maintained, increased, or decreased for the following feeding. For a practical example of how to use the combination of these two measurements, check out this Feed Bunk Management PDF for beef cattle from Iowa State University.

When considering the implementation of controlled feed intake, there are 4 steps and key considerations to keep in mind.

  • Measure and record how much feed is given. Measure feed by weight rather than volume (This is key as some livestock producers measure feed based upon a 5 gallon bucket).
  • Observe how much fed is left before the next feeding. Be sure to familiarize yourself with an appropriate scoring system (Table 1).
  • Adjust how much feed is provided to animals based on how much feed has been consumed/left in the bunk. This is measured over a set number of days.
  • Be consistent with you feeding: feed a consistent amount of feed at the same time each day.

Again, for a more detailed overview on this topic, I encourage you to check out both the Ag-note from The Ohio State University as well as the extension piece from Iowa State University. Each feeding system has its benefits and disadvantages. Depending upon your resources available (time, labor, facility, equipment) and operation production goals, these factors will determine the best feeding system for you. Happy Feeding!

Why Ewe Should Control Feed Intake
** Follow the link above to view the Ag-note.